Getting out of Iraq

Today's bombings don't affect the logic of withdrawal

It's a funny old world, isn't it? Despite having been the undisputed centre of global attention for the past six years, these days, Iraq, not Afghanistan, seems to be the forgotten war, with politicians and the press fretting over casualties in Kandahar rather than Kirkuk. It's been a month since US troops pulled back from cities and handed over security to Iraqi soldiers. Critics of the occupation hailed the move and Iraqis danced in the streets.

But supporters of the occupation might point to today's horrific bomb attacks in Mosul and Baghdadl as evidence that Iraq needs foreign troops to guarantee its internal security. From the BBC:

"At least four bombs have exploded in Iraq, killing about 40 people and wounding more than 200.

Two truck bombs exploded in a Shia village near the northern city of Mosul, killing at least 23 people and injuring around 130.

Meanwhile, two bombs went off near construction sites in Baghdad, with 16 people killed and more than 80 wounded."

Such bombings are depressing and tragic and remind us all that Iraq's violence is not going to come to a shuddering halt overnight. AP has a long list of bloody incidents that have occurred since the start of the year. But to use the ongoing violence as a cover for maintaining a foreign military presence in the country is disingenuous - and ignores the overall decline in violence and killings since the US troops withdrew from Iraq's cities. As Time's Tim McGirk points out, in a piece entitled "The Case for Leaving Iraq - Now":

"Although every day in Iraq repeats the endless spiral of bombs in crowded bazaars and mosques -- each fueling demands for retribution -- things are slowly getting better. Last month, the number of violent deaths in Iraq fell to 275, down from 437 in June. And that's a good sign for the security prospects following the redeployment of U.S. forces out of Iraq's urban areas. In Baghdad, the violence has ebbed to the point that the Iraqi government, whose forces are now responsible for security, this week announced that over the next 40 days, it will tear down the razor-wire-topped blast walls that had for years divided the capital into a collection of fortified, warring Sunni and Shi'ite fiefdoms."

McGirk draws attention to senior US soldiers, as well as liberal anti-war activists, who are urging the Obama administration to declare victory and bring all the troops home. He concludes:

"There's no denying that the 2003 U.S. invasion unleashed chaos in Iraq, as sectarian hatreds, Iranian influence and ancient feuds over land and the oil beneath it, produced a storm of bloodletting. But last month, once the U.S. troops began to shrink back to their giant bases, which are like sand-blown, little American cities with pizza and burger chains, they ceased to be the dominant player in Iraq. And if the U.S. can no longer influence events in Iraq, what's the point of lingering around eating gritty pizza?"

What's the point, indeed?

 

 

 

 

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.