Greg Jaffe -- The War in Iraq is Over for the U.S.

By Greg Jaffe
Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Iraq war is over -- for us.

That doesn't mean that the United States won or achieved all of its aims or that fighting among Iraqis will stop. It doesn't mean that Iraq is stable, democratic and relatively free of corruption.

The war is over for the United States because the Iraqis don't really need or want American forces around anymore. Every time U.S. troops roll out of the gate with their Iraqi counterparts in Baghdad, they discredit the Iraqi forces in the eyes of their people. They make their Iraqi partners' jobs harder. Although senior U.S. commanders understand and accept this fact privately, they will never admit it.

Last week in Baghdad, Gen. Ray Odierno, the top commander in Iraq, blanched when a reporter asked him whether the war is "functionally over."

"There are still civilians being killed in Iraq," Odierno replied. "We still have people that are attempting to attack the new Iraqi order and the move towards democracy and a more open economy. So we still have some work to do."

In the Iraqi capital Tuesday, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates mouthed the standard line that there will still be "tough days ahead" for U.S. and Iraqi troops as the "enemies of a free Iraq try to derail progress."

On the same day Gates spoke, Iraqi forces stormed the camp of an Iranian opposition group that U.S. forces had spent the past six years protecting. The Mujaheddin-e Khalq, or MEK, had made common cause with Saddam Hussein against Iran, but the new Iraqi government, which sees Tehran as a potential ally, decided it could no longer allow them a haven.

Odierno suggested that it wasn't the U.S. military's job to intervene in what was essentially an internal matter. "This is about the Iraqis," he said. His tone marked a big change from the days when U.S. commanders would press the Iraqi government to fire or replace commanders they thought were incompetent or overtly sectarian.

Earlier the same day, Gates visited Tallil air base southeast of Baghdad to chat with U.S. soldiers and Iraqi police commandos as they prepared to head out on a joint patrol. The Iraqis, clad in camouflage uniforms and do-rags, huddled around their Humvees in the 115-degree midday heat. The American soldiers gathered in a separate cluster around Gates. The Pentagon chief thanked them for their sacrifice and service. "The training and partnering missions that you are doing are the next step in our success," he said.

A few feet away, Maj. Sean Kuester admitted that the Iraqi police in the area were largely self-sufficient and his own soldiers were more than a little bored. The Iraqis had asked for some help with evidence collection and forensics, but that was about it. They conducted their own patrols and interrogations with little to no oversight from U.S. troops. "Honestly, they seem to have a very firm grasp on things," Kuester said.

By early afternoon, Gates had jetted to Baghdad, where he and Iraqi Defense Minister Abdul Qadir Muhammed Jassim met at the Iraqi military headquarters, a marble building with elevators that haven't worked since the early days of the American invasion. At the post-meeting news conference, virtually all of the Iraqi journalists' questions were directed at Jassim.

Only a couple of years ago it would have been unthinkable that the Iraqi minister would be the main attraction at a news conference with his U.S. counterpart. Everyone assumed that the Americans were really in charge and that the Iraqis were there solely to put an Iraqi face on a U.S. military endeavor.

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