Five U.S. soldiers who were training Iraqi police officers died today when a rocket slammed into their compound in Baghdad. This was the worst single-day loss of life for U.S. forces in Iraq in the last two years.
I don’t know who was responsible, but I can guess. Rockets are a signature weapon of Shiite terrorists funded and trained by Iran’s Quds Force and loosely aligned with Muqtada al Sadr’s Mahdist movement. (Car bomb attacks, by contrast, are a signature of Sunni terrorists.) The Iranian-backed forces have been fairly quiet for a couple of years now, but they appear to be picking up the pace of attacks in a bid to stymie any attempt to extend the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq beyond the end of this year.
There has been renewed interest expressed both by Prime Minister Maliki and by Obama administration officials in signing a new Status of Forces agreement that would keep a reduced number of troops—perhaps 10,000 to 20,000—to support Iraqi security personnel and act as a de-facto peacekeeping force. This development is most unwelcome to Iran, which did everything it could to prevent the original Status of Forces Agreement from being signed in 2008. Hence these attacks, and likely more such in the coming days—all of it intended to demonstrate to the American public that it is too dangerous to keep troops in Iraq.
The danger is real but is outweighed by the danger of pulling out all 50,000 U.S. troops at the end of the year. If the U.S. did that, the possibility of Iraq’s slipping back into civil war would significantly go up. The ability of Iran and its proxies to extend their influence would definitely go up. It is imperative that responsible leaders in both the U.S. and Iraq not give the extremists what they want. These attacks are all the more reason to extend the security agreement in order to build on the substantial progress that has been made since the 2007-2008 surge.
There is a chance to make Iraq a democratic exemplar for the entire Arab world. Don’t blow it now, not when so much progress has been made and so many have sacrificed so much.