US troop withdrawal threatens to bring more violence to Iraq

The Obama Administration has told the world the US is on the brink of pulling all combat troops out of Iraq. But many Iraqis and political analysts doubt whether it is a realistic time frame.

When will American troops leave Iraq? Well, according to the President himself, the answer is “very soon.”

“Let me say this as plainly as I can. By August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end,” Barack Obama said.

And according to the people on the ground, the US military draw-down has already started to happen, with remaining troops confining activities to base and the Iraqi government assuming more of an operational role.

“I think they understand that we are on our way out. A lot of our mission here is just to train and advise them, and they have really been stepping up. I think they understand what our president said. He really wants to get us to 50,000 soldiers by August, and next year, get us out of country,” says Lt. Darryl Frost from Joint Area Support Group in Baghdad.

More than just pulling out of the country, US military officials are looking for a smooth transition, and part of that process is making sure any buildings and facilities are fully operational before they pull out and before the Iraqi government takes over.

But with recent elections ending with confusion over the creation of a coalition government, a smooth transition may be more difficult than first imagined.

There are fears that sectarian violence may escalate in the region. In fact recent renewed violence in Baghdad has caused speculation that America may just stay a bit longer in Iraq.

“He hasn't said that there will be no withdrawal whatsoever, but they have started to put out word that this partial withdrawal – getting down to 50,000 troops plus mercenaries, contractors and so forth by the end of August – won't start as soon as it was supposed to start,” says David Swanson, an author and political activist. “That has been pushed off repeatedly so now we are supposedly going to see 40 or 50,000 troops pulled out in just a couple of months.”

And now Iraqis are also concerned about external influences from Iran, Turkey and Syria trying to direct the country's future.

“There are many parties who are trying to sabotage the Iraqi political process and they are trying to put enough pressure on the Obama administration to cancel or delay the withdrawal because it is in their interest to continue the US occupation,” says Raed Jarrar, Iraq consultant from American Friends Services Committee.

Some Iraqi leaders are calling for continued American support, even after the troops have gone home.

“President Obama mentioned the withdrawal of troops does not mean the end of the engagement. We deem it logical that the troops go home from Iraq, but that the relationship with the Americans will continue,” says Massoud Barzani, President of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region.

That means America will always have some political influence long after the military has gone home.