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Daily Column
US Papers Tue: Jubilation, Fear in Iraq
On Eve of U.S. Pullback, US Forces' New Role is Still Evolving
By DANIEL W. SMITH 06/30/2009 02:00 AM ET
The future role of US forces in Iraq is beginning to emerge to fuller extent than in previous weeks, as is a vocabulary to explain it in the writings of American newspapers. It takes more than a soundbite (or even several paragraphs) at this point, but it continues to be boiled down, as official statements are being compared with each other and with what is happening on the ground. Today, most of the stories are based on Iraqi reaction and the prospects for security under the country’s own forces, but from within can be gotten a pretty full grasp of the situation as a whole.

From Iraq
We'll start off with Ernesto Londoño of the Washington Post, who gives the best general picture of what’s happening. The celebrations in Iraq are the focus, but there are telling undercurrents, as people dance and sing at a government-sponsored event at Baghdad’s Zahwra Park.
But city streets were also largely empty of Humvees and U.S. troops. Those Iraqis who ventured out were in the mood to party, celebrating a moment that the Iraqi government has said represents its return to full sovereignty. "Out, America, out!" a group of sweat-drenched young men chanted. ...Iraqi policemen, many wearing body-armor vests without plates, bobbed their heads, taken by the moment.

As Americans adapt to the vaguely defined terms of the security agreement that set June 30 as the deadline for soldiers to leave the cities, there is little talk among U.S. commanders and diplomats of engineering a victory in the 2 1/2 years they expect to remain here. Some officials have begun saying privately that the best-case scenario would be to depart with a "modicum of dignity." Doing so will mean contending with a resilient insurgency, volatile politics and a growing assertiveness among Iraqis whose patience with the U.S. presence long ago wore thin.
The Christian Science Monitor’s Jane Arraf continues her coverage of Mosul, where a joint US/Iraqi ceremony included Ninewa Governor al-Najafi announcing "June 30 is the first day in the history of the true and complete independence of Iraq," and the top US general in the region displayed a sign reading "Iraqi approved US assistance teams" that will be placed on American military vehicles. Arraf has been pushing the understanding of the future US presence in Iraq through here Mosul reporting for weeks, and keeps it coming.
Six years into the war, it has become politically untenable for both Iraq and the US to have American combat troops in the streets. But although the intent of the security agreement is clear, the mechanics of how it will be carried out and how well it will work are much less certain.

The effectiveness of the agreement will come down to coordination – so far not the hallmark of the Iraqi military. Although there is an Iraqi officer embedded at the battalion tactical operations center, the Iraqis have not provided someone to fill the same function at the higher brigade level in Mosul.

...As if to underscore the concerns, last week at a major checkpoint in the city an IED packed with ball bearings exploded just after a US military training team drove past. The blast missed its apparent target and shattered the windows of a passing Iraqi car. The IED had been placed just a few hundred yards from the Iraqi Army checkpoint.
Marc Santora of the New York Times writes about US forces pulling out of Baghdad’s Ghazaliya neighborhood, where the prospect of less security (even with more than 500 army soldiers, 700 National Police officers and 400 members of the Sunni Awakening - plus several hundred others) brings with it the specter of past sectarian violence. Though it marks improvement from the worst of times, it is a picture much more grim than that seen through the rose-colored lens of Iraqi state-run television.
Schools are open, including one where a teacher had been strung up by her feet and had her face cut off by extremists. For the first time since the outbreak of the war, major thoroughfares are lit up at night. Streets where raw sewage once streamed are now merely battered and strewn with trash.

But beneath the calm, the original sectarian tensions that exploded into civil war remain. Few displaced families have moved back into their houses, with Shiites living in the northern half and Sunnis in the south. Responsibility for security is also equally divided — the National Police for the Shiite area and the Iraqi Army for the Sunnis.

“Right now we are balanced on a knife’s edge,” said one Sunni man. “We do not like the Americans, but we also thank God when we see them with the Iraqi Army, because we know we can trust them more than the government forces.”
Aamer Madhani and Nadeem Majeed write, in USA Today, about the Zahwra Park celebration as well, and about other things less celebratory, such as the death on Mmonday of four US soldiers.
U.S. troops weren't in sight in the capital Monday. Instead, Iraqi police and soldiers flooded the streets — their vehicles covered in plastic flowers and streamers. Troops blared martial music and patriotic songs from speakers mounted at checkpoints throughout the city.

...While Iraq celebrated the switch-over, violence continued. The U.S. military announced Monday that a soldier was killed in combat on Sunday, but his name was not released. More than 4,300 U.S. troops have died in Iraq since the war began in 2003.
"We are grateful for what the U.S. military did in toppling Saddam Hussein's regime and fighting the militias and al-Qaeda," said government spokesman Tahseen al-Sheikhly said. "What we need now is their help rebuilding our country."

"I pray our police and army will be able to provide us security," said Kareem Abdul Hassan, 56. "But I still feel uneasy about the situation."

From Elsewhere
Bidding on huge Iraqi oil contracts Tuesday are foreign companies far and wide – and one of the wider players is looking to be China. Keith Bradsher files from Hong Kong, and details some of China’s current and likely future involvement in Iraqi oil.
As the world’s second-largest and fastest-growing consumer of oil, China is showing increasing interest in oil fields in a country that has until very recently seemed to be firmly in the American sphere of influence for natural resources: Iraq.

...Chinese oil companies have been particularly interested in buying oil fields ever since crude oil prices plunged late last summer, because that dragged down the cost of oil fields as well, Mr. Andrews-Speed wrote. And with their experience in some of the most turbulent countries in Africa, Chinese oil companies may have the ability to cope with the unpredictability of Iraq.


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