While the U.S. wants to get all its combat troops out of Iraq by the end of 2011, the Iraqi government is asking for some combat troops to be kept longer. The Iraqis also fear Sunni Islamic terrorists, who continue to receive support from neighboring Sunni Arab nations like Syria and Saudi Arabia. Iran also threatens to unleash Shia radical militias again. The Iraqi government is still trying to run down a few Sunni Arab terror gangs, and has to worry about continuing violence between Kurds and Arabs up north. Iraqi officials also asked the U.S. government to not release more photos of U.S. interrogations, because they insisted that Islamic radical groups would use the photos to recruit more killers and cash contributions for terrorism in Iraq.
The problem is that Iraq has a lot of enemies in the neighborhood, and wants U.S. troops to stick around, well, indefinitely. The U.S. Army is planning on having to keep combat brigades in Iraq for at least another ten years. Currently, American commanders believe that fourteen urban bases U.S. and Iraqi troops, should stay as they are after the end of the month, when all American combat troops are to be withdrawn from the cities.
Americans have been telling Iraqis for years that corruption is their biggest, and most fundamental, problem. Many Iraqis agreed, and now the government says it is doing something about it. In April, 51 officials were arrested for corruption, which rose to 69 last month, including a senior minister. But now the government has arrest warrants for 997 officials, including 53 senior ones. The government fears that some of these men will resort to violence, even terrorism, to defend themselves from prosecution for corruption. That's another reason the Iraqis are asking for American combat troops to stick around.
Relations with Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have gotten worse. Kuwait continues to demand payment of the reparations for Iraqi damage done during the 1990-91 invasion and occupation. Iraq has long lied and avoided fulfilling their reparations commitments. Although the Saudi government is friendly enough, most Saudis are unhappy that the Sunni Arab minority is no longer ruling Iraq. Thus Saudi Arabia does little to stop violence minded Saudis from travelling to Iraq (usually via Syria) to engage in terrorist activities. The Saudis have not cracked down enough on Saudis contributing cash to support Sunni Arab terrorism in Iraq.
Syria is a little more complicated. In the 1960s, both Iraq and Syria were ruled by branches of the same Baath Party. Baath was a post World War II movement inspired by Western ideas. Baath was nationalist and socialist, and admired the German Nazis (national socialists) and Russian communists (international socialists). Ultimately, Baath sought to unite the Arab countries, and make Arabs, once more, a world power. Arabs had lost that power a thousand years ago, and regaining it resonated with many Arabs. But local differences resonated more, and Baath soon lost its international flavor. Syria is still ruled by a branch of the Baath party, run by members of the Shia minority. The Iraq branch was controlled by a Sunni minority, and this was one of the reasons for the 1960s split. Since that split, Syria became an ally (a very dependent one) of Iran. Syria supports Sunni Arab terrorists in Iraq because this keeps Iraq weak. A strong Iraq might come after Syria for revenge, or self-defense. But all Sunni Arabs in the region, including those who comprise the majority of Syrians, fear Iran, a non-Arab, Shia Moslem state that has had its way in the region for thousands of years. In the last few centuries, Turkey, then other Western nations, have blocked Iran. The local Arabs fear that those chains may be broken if Iran develops nuclear weapons.
Last month, 134 Iraqi civilians died from terrorist or military violence. This is the lowest monthly toll since 2003. Last month, 12 U.S. troops died in combat, and a bit more than ten times as many Iraqi soldiers and police were killed. Terrorist deaths were up in for the three months before that, as several terrorist groups were hunted down. Civilian deaths were 290 in April, but after that, most of the active Sunni Arab terrorists were caught, killed or forced to flee the country. Last may, 505 civilians died from the violence.
May 30, 2009: For the first time in over 30 years, rail service between Iraq and Syria was restored.