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What Does Recent Iraq Violence Mean for U.S. Troops’ Exit?

A wave of 42 attacks devastated Iraq on Monday, killing at least 70 people and wounding more than 200 in more than a dozen cities. Margaret Warner discusses what the attacks mean for the missions of the remaining U.S. troops and the Iraqi security forces with The Washington Post's Annie Gowen, reporting from Baghdad.

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    For more, we go to Washington Post reporter Annie Gowen in Baghdad.

    And, Annie, welcome. Thanks for joining us.

    Iraqi officials are saying that they believe these 42 attacks were coordinated. The question is by whom. Who do they think has the ability to pull something like this off?

  • ANNIE GOWEN, The Washington Post:

    Well, I spoke to an Iraqi army commander yesterday who basically assumes that it's al-Qaida in Iraq.

    And the U.S. military is not saying yet that they think that as well, but they're saying that it's very similar to a string of attacks that occurred in Ramadan last year which were also coordinated and went — you know, where 53 people died in multiple cities in Iraq. And that was perpetrated by al-Qaida in Iraq.

    So, they're — they're basically — although no one has claimed responsibility, they basically think that it's likely the work of al-Qaida.


    And, then, so you're talking really about the Sunni insurgency, al-Qaida linked. To what end? I mean, what do you think — or what do Iraqi and American officials think is their political objective with this?


    Well, some say that they're trying to destabilize the country, so that the Americans will leave — will leave at the deadline that's prescribed, which is Dec. 31, obviously. But others feel like that they're just trying to rationalize their existence and that, if they weren't perpetrating these attacks, that, you know, there would be no need for the Americans to stay.

    So there's really a lot of debate about sort of what — you know, what are their objectives? I don't think there's any real clear answer right at this point.


    Do they think it is related to the fact that, just two weeks ago, on Aug. 3, the Baghdad government, the Maliki government, and the U.S. announced that they were going to enter formal talks about extending the U.S. presence?


    Well, I think that's — everybody has been holding their breath, you know, all the Iraqi citizens and the Americans here as well. I mean, that's like the $64,000 question here, which is, are the American troops going to go in total by the deadline? There's 46,000 here now, far fewer than were here during the surge in '07.

    But, you know, they're talking about maybe a force of 10,000 trainers that could stay, but, really, nobody knows. And the Iraqis haven't made a decision. And the American Army officials are just waiting for them to sort of agree behind the scenes as to what they're going to even ask for.


    And how did ordinary Iraqis that you have talked to just in the streets, say, react to yesterday's attacks? Were they surprised? Are they upset? Or do they seem resigned?


    I would say, you know, what's really interesting about Baghdad right now is that it's sort of a city that's coming back into itself. You go out in the evening and people are in the restaurants again. There's a lot of new hotels opening up. There is a new mall opening up.

    But, you know, the folks say that they still don't feel safe. Obviously, the violence is nowhere near what it was in '07, but they still don't feel safe. And that's — you know, that's a huge thing for them.


    Have you heard anyone express fear that — that Iraq could see a return to the kind of sectarian violence that they had back in '06 and '07?


    Yes. Actually, I spoke to just an Iraqi man today who said: I — we want the American troops to stay. We are afraid that when they leave, the minute they leave, civil war will descend on the country again.

    And nobody wants to go — nobody here wants to go back to those days of the sectarian violence in '07, when you couldn't — the Iraqis couldn't even walk to work without seeing corpses in the street. So — but I don't know that his is the majority position. I think, if you took a poll, most Iraqis would say that they want the Americans to leave.


    And I know that the Iraqi government can be kind of opaque to a reporter. It's very difficult to know what's going on inside.

    But do you have any sense of what — after so many months of delay, the Iraqi government finally just two weeks ago said, you know what? We are ready to talk to you about the possibility of extending your presence here.


    Well, I mean, I think in Iraq, everything takes longer. There's a lot of different parties that — that — and sides to the discussion.

    But I just think that — that — and I think it's frustrating to the Americans that they have delayed for so long as well. I mean, you know, you have Adm. Mullen Leon Panetta both saying, you know, please, please make a decision. We can't turn back the clock. We can't stop the process of leaving if you don't make a decision soon.

    So I think it's frustrating to the American officials as well.


    Well, Annie Gowen of The Washington Post, thank you so much.


    Thank you for having me.

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