Nir Rosen reports from Iraq:
Hundreds of cars waiting in the heat to slowly pass through one of the dozens of checkpoints and searches they must endure every day. The constant roar of generators. The smell of fuel, of sewage, of kabobs. Automatic weapons pointed at your head out of military vehicles, out of SUVs with tinted windows. Mountains of garbage. Rumors of the latest assassination or explosion. Welcome to the new Iraq, same as the old Iraq — even if Barack Obama has declared George W. Bush’s Operation Iraqi Freedom over and announced the beginning of his own Operation New Dawn, and Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has declared Iraq sovereign and independent.
Iraq has had several declarations of sovereignty since the first one in June 2004. As with earlier milestones, it’s not clear what exactly this one means. Since the Americans have declared the end of combat operations, U.S. Stryker and MRAP vehicles can be seen conducting patrols without Iraqi escorts in parts of the country and the Americans continue to conduct unilateral military operations in Mosul and elsewhere, even if under the guise of “force protection” or “countering improvised explosive devices.” American military officers in Iraq told me they were irate with the politically driven announcement from the White House that combat troops had withdrawn. Those remaining still consider themselves combat troops, and commanders say there is little change in their rules of engagement — they will still respond to threats pre-emptively.