Will the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq threaten Saudi Arabia and Israel?
With no agreed-upon government five months after elections were held, the political vacuum in Iraq has given Iran space to exert its influence.
Punctuality is a requirement that annoys every soldier. Diplomats and politicians generally know how to avoid being on time.
But with U.S. President Barack Obama falling in public opinion polls, with the war in Afghanistan changing directions every 3-4 months and no end in sight, and with congressional elections approaching in November, Obama said to his supporters "I'm sticking to the schedule".
The plan to reduce the number of combat troops in Iraq to 50,000 by the end of August, reaffirmed by Obama on Monday, is not a full retreat, but it is worrying, mostly due to the fact that in Iraq there is still no government five months after elections were held.
Iraqi security forces have certainly improved, the number of daily attacks is falling and the war claims "only" 50 people per week compared to hundreds only a few years ago. Yet in July, there was a surge of deaths, with more than 500 people killed.
But the number of attacks is just one measure of the situation that the U.S. is leaving behind.
With the absence of an agreed-upon government and with political rivals threatening that the situation could deteriorate into renewed civil war, the political vacuum gives Iran space to interfere in Iraq's affairs. Iran wants there to be a prime minister in Iraq who will be an Iranian ally and follow Iranian orders. Iran prefers incumbent Shi'ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki over Iyad Allawi, a secular Shi'ite who is friendly with the U.S. and in close contact with the CIA.
Less than two weeks ago, Allawi met in Damascus with Moqtada al-Sadr, the separatist Shi'ite leader who lives in Iran, in order to try to build a coalition. The attempt failed and other Shi'ite leaders oppose Allawi being appointed prime minister, despite the fact that Allawi narrowly won the elections by one seat.
An Iraq without an authority able to assume the tasks that had been carried out by the departing American forces would threaten Saudi Arabia and Jordan, due to the possibility of Iraq joining the pro-Iran axis with Syria and Turkey and leaving the pro-western sphere of the Arab world behind.
Iran is already the main trading partner with Iraq with the volume of trade between the two nations expected to reach $10 billion this year. Iran also has consulates in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq and has direct access to Iraqi military units.
Israel also should be concerned about the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq before the establishment of a political structure that ensures a responsible government. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has shared his worries with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates about the emergence of a new eastern front, which may become the next threat.
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