by Rebekah Mintzer
UNITED NATIONS, Aug. 19 (Xinhua) -- Though the United States' drawdown in troops from Iraq will likely happen on time, Iraqis, along with remaining U.S. forces, still have work to do in order to ensure stability and security in the country, Patricia DeGennaro, a Middle East policy expert, told Xinhua in a recent interview.
DeGennaro is an adjunct assistant professor at New York University and a senior fellow at the World Policy Institute. During the interview, she discussed her hopes for an Iraqi population she called "very well educated and determined to try to govern the state themselves."
U.S. President Barack Obama confirmed in a speech on Aug. 2 that the United States will change its mission from one of combat forces to one of transitional forces at the end of August. The United States will reduce its number of troops on the ground to 50, 000 by then, and completely withdraw from Iraq by the end of 2011.
This commitment raised some questions about whether or not Iraq, where U.S. troops have been active since 2003, is ready to take charge of its own security situation.
Aggravating these doubts are recent bouts of violence attributable to heightened insurgent activity during the holy month of Ramadan, as well as the country's inability to form a coalition government after parliamentary elections in March 2010 left no clear winner. One devastating attack on an Iraqi army recruitment center on Tuesday left 45 people dead and 121 others wounded.
DeGennaro said she sees the current lack of a national government as "hurting the country as a whole in the long run," but does not believe that recent events will change the U.S. established timetable for withdrawal. She stressed that the United States is maintaining some troops in Iraq until the end of 2011 in order to continue to train Iraqis to deal with insurgent attacks and other violent incidents.
"They will lead and train and help stability and foster and improve and maintain stability and make sure that the military and the police force are ready to be able to deal with some of these really devastating random acts of violence that are happening," she said.
DeGennaro also maintained that factionalism, a perennial problem in Iraq, will likely continue after the American troop drawdown.
"I think the challenge is going to be the fear that was put into different ethnic divisions over the past several years, how they deal directly with that fear between Kurds, and Shiite and Sunni parts of the community, and we (the U.S.) are not helping with that," she said.
She stated her expectation that "some other entity will come in or Iraq itself will take steps in working with a peace and reconciliation commission, and say, okay, we are either going to be a nation and a strong one, and we have to deal with these things, or are going to be behind as we've been for some time under the dictatorship of Saddam."
Other concerns have emerged, as some Americans fear that the exit of U.S. troops from Iraq will create a void in the region that might be filled by Iran.
DeGennaro said, however, that Iraqis would not allow Iran to gain too large of a foothold in their nation.
"They do have a very strong economic relationship and I think the ties between them are often based on that, and that will continue and it quite possibly will be enhanced, but I don't think it will really be what we (in the U.S.) are fearing, that there will really be a kind of bloc of Iranian influence that is unmanageable and very hegemonic," she said.
If the Iraqis are having difficulties, she said, they will likely come to the United States because of the rapport and partnerships that the two countries have built over recent years.
According to DeGennaro, the United Nations will have an important role to play in Iraq's near future as well.
On Aug. 5, the UN Security Council renewed the mandate of UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) for another year.
"The UN has such dedicated individuals that really are out there caring about making countries able to stand on their own two feet," DeGennaro said. "I would hope that they do concentrate on helping them with building some of the basic ways to deal with making a stronger legal system and making sure that people are able to have economic viability with themselves."
She supported the UN's ability to work on the ground in Iraq with a "limited footprint."
"I often feel that in these countries that's a better way to approach things, to have very specific focus and a very small footprint," she said.
And DeGennaro does not believe that the UN and other organizations will be investing resources in Iraq for too many decades into the future.
"Iraq is a very interesting country because I think that if it does what it should, based on the talent and the education and abilities there, I don't think it will need development help for very long," she said.
"Hospitals are being revamped and the agricultural sector is starting to move forward," as Iraqis take the goals of development into their own hands, she added.