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Iraq After the Drawdown

Top reporters Anthony Shadid and Liz Sly join us live from Baghdad to talk about the road ahead now for Iraq.

Followers of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr as they attend open air Friday prayers in Sadr City in Baghdad, Aug. 20, 2010. (AP)

U.S. troops in Iraq, as of today, are below 50,000 for the first time since the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein seven years ago. Last week, last combat troops were formally pulled out. By the end of next year, all U.S. troops are scheduled to be gone. 

So, what is the Iraq all those departing troops are leaving behind? It’s not Saddam’s tyranny. And it’s not the violent hellhole it became in the wake of the U.S. invasion. But it is very tense. 

The country is unable, five months after elections, to form a government. And it’s increasingly, again, violent. We size up the Iraq we – sort of – leave behind.

-Tom Ashbrook


Anthony Shadid, foreign correspondent for the New York Times. He has twice won the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting, in 2004 and 2010, for his coverage of the Iraq War. He is author of “Night Draws Near: Iraq’s People in the Shadow of America’s War.”

Liz Sly, Middle East correspondent for the Los Angeles Times. She spent most of the last decade covering the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

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  • Joshua Hendrickson

    Are we leaving Iraq worse off or better off than we found it? (I leave aside the question of whether we are really leaving it or not.) No one misses Saddam. But mishandling the power vacuum left behind by his overthrow, as well as treating civilians as enemies, has not improved the lives of Iraqis. It’s a mess, and it’s likely to stay a mess for at least a generation.

  • michael

    Iraqi’s are sadly worst off than when there were under Saddams rule. After Billions spent there have less eletrcy now fear random bombings, did not complete the bench marks that the surge was supposed to allow, still between 2 million displaced in iraq and 3 million outside. Tension rising with the Kurds over oil, and the prized “Sons of iraq” are slowly being arrested and not paid, as well as giving iran a ally next door. I’m still waiting for the Military to find a way to send the troops that left to Afghanistan.

    Will onpoint have anyone critical of iraq with it’s three guest or will it be another pro war journalist’s that are in bed with the military?

  • Zeno

    Renegade US installed dictator Saddam Hussein nationalized Iraq’s oil fields, so big oil ordered the US government to get those oil fields back. Once they had been given back to their respective oil corporations… the “Mission” was “Accomplished”.

  • Marty

    Dictatorships, by their very nature, ignore democratic principles. The overthrow of Hussein has resulted in a seedling democracy that will take time to evolve. While there will be occasional setbacks – the path to individual freedoms, over the long haul, has been set in motion. God Bless the United States and all of freedom loving countries.

  • Michael

    “Dictatorships, by their very nature, ignore democratic principles. The overthrow of Hussein has resulted in a seedling democracy that will take time to evolve. While there will be occasional setbacks – the path to individual freedoms, over the long haul, has been set in motion. God Bless the United States and all of freedom loving countries.”

    Are you referring to the Dictator that was supported and backed by Freedom loving countries? Amazing this concept does not apply to Saudi A. or many African nations that had dictators installed and supported by the U.S. or even Pakistan for awhile i’m sure those 500k Iraqi’s that died under Freedom loving countries sanctions may disagree with you, as will as the civilians in Egypt who are under a dictator supported and backed by the U.S.

    Our Freedom loving democracy has a history of overthrowing other freedom loving democracy for financial gains and installing or supporting those nasty dictators .

  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    Michael et al: We learn from our experience that we don’t learn from our experience.

  • jeffe

    Given that we spent billions on the infrastructure of Iraq and have nothing to show for it points to a failure on this front. The other thing that is not mentioned is that almost all of the professional classes have fled the country. Electricity does not work and there are now riots because of the lack of electricity.

    What is US leaving behind? Well the good news is Saddam is gone, the bad news is that it seems like the US has not been successful in putting this country back together again.

    Also Iran has been taking full advantage since the 2003 in carving out their new roll in the Middle East.

  • JacFlasche

    It’s sad and it’s funny. All the patriotic right lined up in lockstep to cram this war down the throats of the world. Lined up behind Bush the tyrant. The family that has it’s fortune why, by kissing the asses of the Saudi’s, by investing in war companies. All the “real Americans”, supported an action that is diametrically apposed to the intent of the founding fathers. And tried to rationalize it in terms of spreading democracy. How can people be so stupid that time and time again they are manipulated by the politicians at the bequest of the Banking/defense industry/Israel. And who do they manage to blame? The poor, the powerless, the defenseless. They have bastardized and corrupted everything their greedy hands have touched, and though their toadies like Limbaugh and Fox, have managed to keep the stupid masses distracted with one polarizing red herring after another. If justice were done Bush, most of the neocons who deceived the nation and the hedge fund managers who became wealthy by ruining America would all be imprisoned for life if not worse. If you vote for incumbents you are directly to blame for this. If you voted for Bush or Reagan or Clinton you are to blame.

  • John

    2050 Mission Accomplished.

  • Jean

    Iraq can’t defend itself from abuse by its neighbors. Does Iraq have the ability to defend its airspace or provide air support to ground operations? I don’t think so.

  • Webb Nichols

    A nation cannot occupy another nation and do its work.We have been manipulated and used by the leaders of Iraq. Billions of dollars have been misappropriated and put in the pockets of individuals instead of being used for reconstruction.

    This is a serious wound in the soul and body of the United States. The war was never worth the life and treasure of all those who have sacrificed and given so much and those who fell victim to this strange illusion of how to create a democracy.

  • T Hodges

    The caller who was a soldier/marine and a contractor had it almost right. There will always be a US military presence in Iraq (and everywhere else for that matter) because they, like the military leaders posturing for CEO positions as the caller called out, and the US government, too, are the protectors of the Corporatocracy. The Corporatocracy’s economic hit men couldn’t penetrate Saddam Hussein’s regime so the Corporatocracy’s tax-paid bodyguards, the US military, was sent in to secure Iraq’s natural resources for them to exploit. This has been going on for 50 years, at least, and it will not stop with Iraq or Afghanistan either. This practice of paying billions in tax dollars to corrupt regimes in order to secure lucrative Corporate contracts where a nation’s infrastructure once resided—and its indigenous people—is the Corporatocracy’s way of driving whole rural populations—now economic captives—to cities after devastating local economies and resources is what US citizens have sown since the 1800′s.

  • Gerry

    Those of you who seem to hate America – the most generous caring country that has ever existed – are slowly destroying yourselves and probably those around you. Lighten up – try love not hate.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Zeno wrote: “Renegade US installed dictator Saddam Hussein nationalized Iraq’s oil fields, so big oil ordered the US government to get those oil fields back. Once they had been given back to their respective oil corporations… the ‘Mission’ was
    ‘Accomplished’.” And no one is addressing this that I can determine. I recall pipelines being attacked early on, 2003, 2004, then people stopped reporting on it, and I never heard actual REPORTING on these so-called oil interests, which corporations exactly, and when.

  • Ellen Dibble

    I heard some academic (Princeton? Cornell) advisor to the Administration saying that people (American citizens) “won’t mind” having a military presence in Iraq indefinitely, just as we don’t “mind” in South Korea.
    I say an increased tax on gasoline would be cheaper than the war in Iraq (or elsewhere), insofar as we end up paying for the war in taxes ultimately anyway, and if the cause is oil, then there is your target.

  • JacFlasche

    Why is everybody pretending that they care what happens in Iraq. Why should anybody care? If Iraq didn’t have oil no one would even be pretending to care about Iraq’s government or people. Very few people anyway. What you need to really be asking yourself if it was worth the tens of thousands of dollars that it cost you and your children. The fleecing of gold and neurons goes on. Do you really think that you care about Iraq? Or maybe this whole thing is just a triumph of the spin doctors.

  • John

    And Iraq is going to be a success compared to Afghanistan.

  • Ellen Dibble

    I’m a lot more worried about Iran than about Al-Kaida in Iraq, given that we have defanged their entrenched enemy (Iraq), as I see it.

  • JacFlasche

    Sorry I forgot. Rumsfeld told us that the oil revenues would pay for the entire war. So we are ok, it will cost us nothing. In fact BP is going to give all the vets free gas for life.

  • T Hodges

    @Gerry, The Red Herring: disagreement with absurdity is American, it’s Democracy. We, the ones who have our eyes open, are no longer willing to roll over for the Corporatocracy’s spin about “hating America” because we call them out, as well as those ignorant masses who think our military is anything but brainwashed assassins for the Corporatocracy’s monetary ends. I don’t blame our troops—not at all. But a little critical thinking, for a change, can go a long way. Call us what you will; your opinions notwithstanding, facts are facts.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Iraq being a fairly new entity, I don’t see it as failure at all if the Kurds split off, if the Sunnis held Baghdad and that area, and the Shiia south went to Iran. I mean, no one has explained why that would be so bad.

  • JacFlasche

    “Those of you who seem to hate America – the most
    generous caring country that has ever existed – are slowly destroying yourselves and probably those around you. Lighten up – try love not hate.”
    Posted by Gerry, on August 24th, 2010 at 10:36 AM

    You mistake love of America for hate of America. The real time to try love not hate was before they started blowing up Iraq. You may have forgotten that Saddam relented. One day after the dead line that Bush gave him. Love would have taken him up in his offer of totally open inspections. Hate sends in the shock and awe. So it is really the opposite of what you think. Those who love America must hate Bush and other self-deluded egocentric who brought us to our position out of their hate. They are the ones who should have tried love. They are the ones who should have loved their country. They are the one who should have supported the troops by not squandering their lives for their own egoism.

  • Zeno

    Lets not forget how far back this manipulation for access to other peoples resources with military power goes. Saddam was necessary to combat the “Radicalized Iran” which was caused by the US and Britain overthrowing Mosaddeq because he was planning to nationalize the British-owned oil industry. The response was installing the US and British backed puppet dictator “Shah of Iran”, who lost power to the theocracy they have now.

    All actions against Iran due to its weapons of mass destruction are the fear anchor to actually reclaim the nationalized oil fields…I think I’ve heard all this before…

  • jim

    Donald Rumsfeld predicted the war would last 3 months.

  • Zeno

    “Iraq being a fairly new entity, I don’t see it as failure at all if the Kurds split off, if the Sunnis held Baghdad and that area, and the Shiia south went to Iran. I mean, no one has explained why that would be so bad.” -Ellen Dibble

    IMO the reason is: Iran is not under the control of US and British oil companies. Iraq had to be “held together” for political manipulation and control for the regional oil resources.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Hmm, so we should be taxing the heck out of oil and oil-related products in order to get us unaddicted ASAP. Tell that to the campaign financers.

  • T. Voyd

    I served with 3rd Infantry Div.-3rd Brigade-1/30 Infantry. We crossed the border on March 21, 2003. We destroyed anything that moved, it was the blind leading the blind, meaning that nobody that crossed that border had ever seen combat. It didn’t make any sense then and it still doesn’t. There are 18 veterans a day that are committing suicide, that comes to about 6500 per year. So far this year, 4300 vets have killed themselves.

    While we were off destroying another country, the U.S. was destroying itself. Buying $400,000 homes it could not afford, maxing out 10 credit cards it can’t pay back and eating itself into the fattest country in the world. We rashend our water and were given only two MRE per day because supply lines were often attacked. I didn’t take a shower for 90 days at one point-no water.
    People say “thank you for my freedom” and I say “what have you done with your freedom”?

    I was medically discharged 5 years ago and have been unemployed for 20 af those months, spending much of my time crammed in a windowless room in a friends basement or sitting in front of a VA mental health psycologist three times a week balling my eyes out. Some of us lost our arms, legs, faces and some lost thier hearts, souls and minds.

    Freedom is not free, that’s a fact, but if you do have freedom, the least you can do with it America, is use it wisely. Actions truly do speak louder than words. We veterans and the innoccent of Iraq need to know the freedom we bled for is honored and valued.

  • Ellen Dibble

    Beginning with “shock and awe,” I was transfixed at the TV wondering not whether we “got” Saddam Hussein but how many of Iraq’s citizens were wounded or killed instead. I recall from the mistaken bombing of the Chinese embassy in Baghdad in the first Iraq enterprise (Kuwait) what a permanent blot we created in our reputation with the Chinese people, who definitely think that could not have been a mistake.
    So there are hundreds of thousands of Iraqis as collateral damage to one dictator, plus those who had to leave Iraq, plus those tormented and inconvenienced, internally displaced.
    The cost of that easy walk to their freedom in March 2003 maybe “deserves” an equal and opposite being “honored and valued,” as T. Voyd puts it. I am wondering how Iraq could do that. They are hurting. As Americans, how do we honor those Iraqis, or our own veterans? The emotional cost of a young person being thrown into such a morass is beyond my ability to imagine.
    I am so sorry you hurt, in body and spirit.
    Thank you all for being there for us, and let us all try for better in future.

  • michael

    Amazing enough Jeff Goldberg who was one of the people promoting a war in iraq is now talking about one with iran.

    And of course in both cases the main stream media has no problem in giving him a platform to do so.

    Onpoint has posted Greenwald response to Goldbergs lied about him, yet NPR still has not, and Goldberg went on Meet the Press as a supposed liberal anti-war voice to talk about going to war with iran and why the U.S. needs to steps up for balance they had two other conser/neocons and a moderate(lol).

  • Steve V

    T. Voyd – Of all the comments today yours was the most telling. Just what did we do with the freedom you and many others fought so hard to preserve? Not only did we run ourselves deeper in debt but we put this “war” on credit as well. Being a vet myself I do honor your service. I only wish the cause and people you fought for were worthy of your sacrifice.

  • Charlotte

    What you or I think about Iraq is beside the point. What do the Iraqis want for their own country, and are they prepared to work together to get there? Or will they persist in regressing back to tribal and sectarian loyalties, tear themselves apart, and tolerate other foreigners running amok on their soil even as they celebrate unloading US.

  • michael

    Interesting as well and would love for onpoint or NPR to have more detail into this.

    Blackwater fined $42m for breaking US export laws Blackwater staff offered security to US convoys in Iraq Private defence company Blackwater has been fined $42m (£27m) for violating US export and arms traffic laws.

    The nearly 300 breaches include the export of illegal weapons to Afghanistan and the unauthorised training of foreign nationals.

    The alleged violations were revealed in US State Department documents.

    The multi-million dollar settlement means that Blackwater, now known as XE Services, will be able to bid for government contracts.

    Breaking the rules

    The investigation which covered Blackwater’s business practices between 2005 and 2009 found the company guilty of numerous violations including:

    violating provisons of licences involving firearms
    unauthorised proposals to a proscribed country
    violating terms of authorisations involving military or security training
    unauthorised export of technical data
    unauthorised export of defence articles
    unauthorised exports to foreign persons
    violations involving administrative requirements
    record-keeping violations.
    The State Department documents reveal, for example, a 2007 breach which it said had potential national security implications.

    In this instance, Blackwater failed to provide biographical information on Taiwanese nationals being trained in sniper operation. This was despite being aware of the obligation to do so.

    The failure to provide adequate biographical information on foreign nationals being trained by Blackwater was repeated throughout the period under investigation.

    In one example, trainees for the Afghan border control included one who was born in Pakistan and the other in Iran, a proscribed country.

    And in 2008, 113 firearms were lost missing or unaccounted for in Iraq. A fact which was not disclosed to the authorities.

    In addition, weapons intended for use in supporting US military operations in Iraq were diverted to Blackwater’s private contracts in the country.


  • michael

    even after the above,

    In spite of this, the State Department said that XE Services’ alleged violations, while widespread, “did not involve sensitive technologies or cause a known harm to national security”.

    Under the terms of the settlement, XE will pay a penalty of $42m of which $12m will be suspended to help XE strengthen the company’s compliance programme.

    The department said it was satisfied that XE had taken the necessary steps to resolve these violations.

  • Bush’s fault

    If Bush I had finished the job, none of this would matter.

  • http://yahoo Wolfowitz lied

    Absolute sin that so many innocent lives were wasted for what we all know to be greed and the privatization of oil. Saddam nationalized the Iraq oil, big oil and defense industry came up with the reasons for invasion, and Fox news et. al. fanned the flames of war….When will humanity and more importantly the American public see the evil in these corporate entities.

    Slaves to corporate jobs….pathetic. learn to want less and live a meaningful life, and perhaps we wont get suckered into giving up our collective soules just to maintain a standard of living that is an illusion…..

  • Mark S.

    We have not yet seen the worst of the Iraq War. Once American troops are completely out it will devolve into the madhouse of religious slaughter and tribal mania that is always just below the surface. Ultimately it will be retaken in a coup by yet another Middle Eastern thug strongman or taken over by Iran. The sacrifice of our brave men and women, sent there by a cohort of cowardly, think-tank, chickenhawk Momma’s Boys (did you hear that Messrs. Cheney, Kristol and Rumsfeld?) and armchair Rambos, as well as the wrecking of our economy with a tsunami of war debt off-budget, will have been for nothing. The madness of that region will always abrogate anything that even approaches rational, secular democracy. I wish I were wrong. I would gladly admit it. However, I know in my gut that I won’t have to. Again, we ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Thanks President Worst. Your legacy is secure.

  • onni

    Dear Gerry,

    Criticizing our country’s foreign policy is NOT tantamount to “hating America”.

    Those who would not allow criticism of the actions of our government are the ones who truly “hate America”.

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