Iraq

Obama to announce Iraq withdrawal

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Last night in his quasi-State of the Union speech, President Obama hinted that he would soon provide a “new way forward in Iraq that leaves Iraq to its people and responsibly ends this war.” Reports have already leaked out that President Obama plans to remove all combat troops from Iraq by August of next year, a compromise between the desires of the military brass and his campaign promise of 16 months.

From the very beginning, we have been pushing for a timeline that is quicker than 16 months. The Center for American Progress’ report, How to Redeploy, outlines how a safe and responsible withdrawal can and should happen in no more than ten months. While the timeline Obama is planning to announce is not as swift as we would like to see, a bigger concern is that the plan would leave behind a “residual force” of 30,000 – 50,000 troops.

The emerging plan now leaves Obama two months off his campaign pledge, and with between 30,000 and 50,000 troops still in Iraq to advise and train Iraqi security forces and to protect U.S. interests.

The residual force would include intelligence and surveillance specialists and their equipment, including unmanned aircraft, according to two administration officials and a Pentagon official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the plan has not been made public.

The complete withdrawal of American forces will take place by December 2011, the period by which the U.S. agreed with Iraq to remove all troops.

We knew throughout the campaign that most of the presidential candidates who supported withdrawal from Iraq supported a residual force, and it was a plan we mobilized against through our No Soldier Left Behind campaign. Most people I’ve talked to, including some congressional staff, don’t realize the full scale of the force that would be left behind.  When they hear President Obama talk about withdrawal, they think the vast majority of troops are coming home. The withdrawal of combat troops, while a significant step that we should celebrate, is not a complete withdrawal.

The Iraqi people have made it clear that they want the US to withdraw, and they will have an opportunity to vote on the Status of Forces Agreement, which requires US withdrawal by the end of 2011 or sooner, in June. Keeping 50,000 troops in Iraq is not going to lessen the resentment in Iraq caused by the presence of a foreign occupying force. Military adviser Stephen Biddle referred to a residual force as “the worst of both worlds,” not being a large enough force for a full-on military strategy, but unable to avoid engaging in combat and serving as targets for violence. If we want to help create stability in Iraq, we need to use diplomacy and aid, and it will require the political capital gained by announcing and pursuing a full withdrawal of US troops.

We shouldn’t discount the significance of starting a withdrawal of troops from Iraq.  It something that all of us having been working for tirelessly since 2003, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the dedication of activists like our committed Peace Action West supporters. While we celebrate the victory brought about by our sustained, powerful grassroots action, we must also continue to push the Obama administration and Congress to go farther than they are ready to go, and completely withdraw every last soldier from Iraq.

Categories: Iraq

3 replies »

  1. U.S. soldiers leave one country, arrive at another; talk of “change” heats the air; the empire digs in for a long stay…
    Given the efforts of the Pentagon to enhance the firepower and overall technical battlefield superiority of U.S. forces in pursuit of the goal of fighting a high-tech war that will minimize if not eliminate the death of U.S. soldiers, a good description of the military capabilities of a force of “only” 50,000 U.S. soldiers would be useful. I would modestly suggest that 50,000 U.S. soldiers is a rather large army. If the mechanics that keep the machines working and the cooks that keep the troops working happen to be locals or mercenaries, the destructive power of 50,000 U.S. troops would be quite sufficient to pose a real threat to just about any country that might consider itself to be a potential target. And note that the most recent figure I have seen is that the U.S. has 180,000 contract soldiers in Iraq!!
    So if Obama has now decided to keep up to 50,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, he has sent a message to the region that will be heard by all. Radicals will have justification for warning of an imminent U.S. invasion; militarists will have justification for demanding emergency armament programs; dictators will have justification for jailing democracy advocates in the name of national security. Those who wish to prevent cooperation with the U.S. will persuasively say that “nothing has changed” with the replacement of Bush by Obama.
    Iraq appears subjugated, while Afghanistan definitely does not, so Washington makes a tactical shift of forces from the former front to the latter. The base archipelago in Iraq is built and remains occupied; that in Afghanistan is just now being laid out. In a year the U.S. will have about the same sized military force for its war to control the region that it has had since 2003 but standing firmly on two legs rather than balancing on one, with troops free to move back and forth for minor tactical reasons. These tactical shifts will of course be trumpted as major changes, neatly obscuring the fundamental stability of the overall policy: the Empire is in the Muslim world to stay.
    On the other hand, Obama said:
    1. “by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end”;
    2. “under the Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government, I intend to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011”.
    Taking Obama at his word, he appears to have said that:
    1. after August 31, 2010, the U.S. will no longer have the ability to conduct a war from Iraq;
    2. by January 1, 2011, the U.S. will have no troops in Iraq at all, including mercenaries hired from unemployed Latin American death squads.
    However, he did not clearly state that the massive, city-like U.S. military bases in Iraq would be turned over to the Iraqi government, and he did not clear state that no military supplies would be stockpiled in Iraq for use in a possible future U.S. attack on neighboring countries. He also made no reference to mercenaries, civilian employees of the Pentagon, contract workers, or any other term that would cover the huge army of unofficial troops currently in Iraq. And he certainly did not condemn lying to the American people about the purpose of the war or apologize for torturing Iraqis or apologize for jailing Iraqis convicted of no offense. He did not condemn the policy of making war on cities. Most critically, he slid smoothly over the fundamental question of whether U.S. relations with Muslim societies should be based on force or reason.
    Whether from the perspective of morality, security, or the strategic course of America’s relations with the world’s Muslims, what Obama omitted was far more important than what he said. Perhaps he is still thinking it through…