Piles of problems left in Iraq after withdrawal of U.S. forces
Eight years and nine months after launching a war against Iraq, the United States is poised to finally bring its military operations in that country to a historic end.
U.S. President Barack Obama declared the end of the war at a ceremony held Wednesday at Fort Bragg, N.C., a U.S. Army installation, to welcome home soldiers who had been deployed to Iraq.
During his presidential election campaign, Obama criticized the administration of former President George W. Bush for committing the United States to the "wrong war" in Iraq. Obama pledged an early withdrawal from Iraq, and won the 2008 presidential election.
The last U.S. troops stationed in Iraq will finish leaving the country shortly, thus fulfilling the promise Obama made after he took office to completely withdraw from the Middle Eastern country by the end of 2011.
U.S. paid heavy price
However, the United States has paid a heavy price for the war.
The Bush administration launched the war after claiming Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, which were never found.
The war also tarred the United States' national prestige, partly because of the chaos that erupted during its occupation of Iraq.
The country has racked up swelling fiscal deficits caused by massive military spending, and the war has claimed the lives of nearly 4,500 U.S. soldiers.
Nevertheless, Obama stressed the war had not been fought in vain. "We are leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq...This is an extraordinary achievement nearly nine years in the making," he said in the speech at Fort Bragg.
The question now is whether these achievements can remain in place and be built on in Iraq without U.S. forces stationed there for backup. Piles of problems lie ahead.
After the collapse of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's dictatorship in the war, the country at one time became mired in military conflict and terrorist attacks as confrontation raged between Shiite and Sunni Muslims. Although the United States finally calmed the situation by boosting its military presence in the country, it would be a stretch to say Iraq is now a nation totally at peace.
Even today, many Iraqi citizens are being killed or wounded in terrorist attacks.
There are fears that the departure of U.S. troops could embolden terrorist organizations and lead to a deterioration of security in the country.
Region crucial for Japan
Iraq has been riven by continuing confrontation between religious and tribal groups. National reconciliation is an urgent task, but the power base of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is backed by Shiite Muslims, remains vulnerable.
There also is the possibility that Iran, a major Shiite nation that shares a border with Iraq, might use the withdrawal of U.S. forces to step up its influence on Baghdad.
If Iraq plunges into chaos again, it would have a significant impact on the whole region.
The United States bears a heavy responsibility for the future of Iraq and the Middle East.
Washington will have to not only cooperate with Baghdad in the security field, such as by training Iraqi military forces, but also press the country in the diplomatic arena so it becomes a responsible major country in the region.
In his meeting with Maliki in November, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda expressed his intention to extend yen loans totaling about 67 billion yen to Iraq for programs including a project to improve a refinery plant in the country.
We believe such efforts will help develop bilateral ties.
Iraq's stability is extremely important for Japan, which imports 90 percent of its crude oil from the Middle East.
In addition to providing reconstruction assistance through official development assistance programs and other channels, it is critical that Japan deepens its economic and business ties with Iraq.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 16, 2011)