There was some big news from Iraq yesterday, with the New York Times carrying news that the American embassy in Baghdad will be scaled down from 16,000 personnel to 8,000. Amongst the downsize will be thousands of mercenaries providing security for the embassy in the wake of the withdrawal of US regular forces in December 2011. This is welcome news, as it indicates further disentanglement from Iraq now that the military commitment has ended.
What is less clear is what this means for my own prediction that the withdrawal of US regular forces did not signal the end of American involvement in Iraq, but rather the transformation of that involvement from overt military activity to an intelligence shadow war, in which Baghdad became the equivalent of Cold War-era Berlin in the great game between the US and Iran. I fully expect that American and Iranian intelligence agents will be matching wits throughout Iraq for many years to come. This expectation was confirmed by a story in the Washington Post this morning which stated that the CIA will continue its presence in both Iraq and Afghanistan long after the end of official combat operations there.
That these two stories in the two papers of record appeared on consecutive days is probably not accidental. We don’t see often front page coverage of Iraq and Afghanistan anymore, but suffice to say things remain interesting over there.
UPDATED: The New York Times now has a roundtable discussion on Iraq.