by Max Watkins:
Earlier this month, President Obama announced, “Our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year. After nearly nine years, America’s war in Iraq will be over.” Although most troops were meant to return home soon, a larger force was projected to remain in Iraq. But other than a few units left to guard the American Embassy and train some Iraqi soldiers, the American presence will become virtually nil.
The reason for this sudden change centers on the conflict between the American and Iraqi administrations on the status of immunity for American soldiers. The Obama administration insisted on immunity for American troops from Iraqi laws and courts. The Iraqi administration under Prime Minister Maliki demanded that any American troops in Iraq had to be subject to the country’s laws. This issue proved to be intractable and no solution could be reached. So the American soldiers are leaving Iraq sooner rather than later.
American troops have enjoyed immunity since the invasion in 2003; why did the Iraqis demand a change now? And why would the Iraqis knowingly insist on something that would result in the Americans departure, despite their critical role in the security and stability of the young Iraqi government?
The stakes for Iraq in this conflict are huge. The American military has supported the Iraqi government for nearly a decade. Establishing real sovereignty and independence, then, is the issue in question — and the reason that the Iraqi administration is willing to part ways with their American counterparts. If the Americans are to continue providing security, the Iraqi government is left with limited legitimacy and a lowered perception of strength. It should be noted that the Iraqi government and security forces are far more capable than they were several years ago, but an omnipresent threat from Iran and internal conflicts between Sunnis and Shias continues to threaten the region’s stability.
Exerting independence in this manner is a highly symbolic milestone for the Iraqis: they are showing their willingness to take matters into their own hands. By telling President Obama that American troops cannot have immunity, Prime Minister Maliki is carving out Iraq’s position a sovereign nation that can delegate terms to whomever it pleases. In this transition moment, the former conqueror has bowed to the demands of the former conquered.
There is the chance that without thousands of American troops in Iraq, the new government will crumble. However, given the resolve of Prime Minister Maliki and his administration, Iraq seems to be in capable hands. The price of independence, however, has many hidden costs.
Max Watkins ’14 is in Timothy Dwight College. He is a Globalist Notebook Beat Blogger. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.