Iraqis fearful of US departure

Washington Post:

Four days after his brother was murdered in a Baghdad robbery this month, Muntather Shaker borrowed $1,500 and bought a pistol. He carries it in his back pocket, sleeps with it under his pillow and is ready to use it to defend his family.

"If I thought the government could protect me I would never buy a weapon," he said. "We don't know what will happen when the Americans leave."

Shaker is one of scores of Iraqis who feel they must depend on themselves for protection as the U.S. military has drawn down to just under 50,000 troops and ends combat operations on Tuesday.

The withdrawing troops leave behind a country with only a tenuous hold on stability: Nearly six months after the national parliamentary election, no new government has formed, violence is on the rise and Iraq's security forces are being targeted.

Despite assurances that the United States is not abandoning Iraq, people here are scrambling to prepare themselves. Weapons dealers in Fallujah, Baghdad, Mosul and Kirkuk said sales of personal protection weapons are up by 30 to 50 percent in the past four months.

"Especially in the last three weeks, business has picked up," said Abu Fatma, who insisted on using his nickname to protect his illegal weapons sales business. "People are afraid. It is as if we are returning to 2005."

Two years ago, as violence steadily dropped from the heights of Iraq's civil war, Abu Fatma said his Baghdad business nearly died. Merchants were selling their weapons back to him. They no longer needed them to protect against assassinations, sectarian violence and looters, they said.

But now the fear has returned as killings with guns capped with silencers and sticky bombs are on the rise, according to Iraqi police statistics. Sunni insurgents are escalating their bomb attacks to coincide with the political impasse and the U.S. drawdown.

Iraqi troops can keep the insurgents from taking over the government, but they appear to be less successful in protecting the people. They need to get better at this aspect of counterinsurgency warfare or there will be more violence.


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