Since US troops rumbled into Baghdad on 9 April Iraqis have increasingly raised their voices in protest at the foreign presence.
Attacks against American troops are on the rise. US troops, barely in control for a month, had a hand grenade lobbed at them in the town of Fallujah after opening fire on Iraqi demonstrators twice in as many day, killing at least 15 civilians.
US troops set up razor
wire in front of their headquarters
“Ousting Saddam Hussein’s regime was only the first part and it was the easy part,” said military analyst Dan Smith, a retired army colonel.
Now that the US has toppled Hussein, Iraqis are questioning the stay of their “liberators” and increasingly demand they go back home.
The question is whether Washington will withdraw its troops from Iraq at an earlier stage than previously planned in the face of tensions.
“The administration will probably argue that the United States cannot afford to leave the job unfinished. We made that mistake in Afghanistan in 1989 and we ended up going back in to take care of the Taliban regime and Al-Qaeda,” said Smith.
Experts say it is highly unlikely that Washington will withdraw from Baghdad ahead of schedule. US officials have been vague about how long they will stay in Iraq, saying they will turn over the country once the interim government, headed by Jay Garner, has completed its job.
But the chairman of Senate Foreign Relations Committee Senator Richard Lugar said in a published interview last month that it could take another five years to establish a democratic Iraq.
“I’m not sure that they’ll withdraw earlier,” said Smith. “What may happen is the introduction of another force, perhaps police, or police trainers to assist with law and order, which would relieve the Americans of those duties and reduce their profile. So the interaction between military forces and the Iraqi population would be reduced,” he said.
Washington will justify keeping on its troops in Iraq even if there is a rise in anti-US violence - and casualties - by saying their mission was not yet complete.
“If you just look at Afghanistan there’s going to be somewhat the same problem,” said Smith. “There will continue to be instability. Perhaps not as much because Iraq’s borders are well-defined and pretty much in control of all their neighbours, unlike Afghanistan,” he added.
“There will be some nervousness (in Washington) over the ethnic and religious splits which do exist in Iraq,” said the retired colonel.
In the shifting sands of geopolitics playing out across the Middle East and southwest Asia, Iraq has taken priority among Washington’s pundits.
The New York Times quoted senior Bush administration officials as saying there would be a “long-term defence relationship with a new Iraq, similar to Afghanistan.”
Time to leave? An imam in Fallujah
protests the US killing of Iraqis
US military officials have discussed the possibility of maintaining four military bases in Iraq. If this emerges it will be unlikely US troops will be leaving Iraq any time soon.
“The real question is how permanent the bases are. If you look at Kosovo you have Camp Bondsteel which is a semi-permanent base for US forces as part of the peacekeeping mission,” said Smith. “I would expect probably that we would have the same kind of arrangements in Iraq.”
Washington announced in April it would be removing all its forces from Saudi Arabia and the majority would be moving to neighbouring Qatar. The other option could be Iraq.
“Whether or not those will be transferred to Iraq, I’ve not seen any indication yet. But that does remain an option,” said Smith.
With bases in Iraq Washington would have secured its foothold in the Middle East and Central Asia, virtually enclosing arch-enemy Iran with a net of US presence - an alluring situation White House hawks have long worked towards.