The Beginning Of The End Of The Iraq War?

[ Posted Monday, June 29th, 2009 – 15:27 UTC ]

Tomorrow will be an important date in the history of America's involvement in Iraq. Because it is the first milestone on the timeline for withdrawal that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki wrested from George W. Bush late last year. Which means, barring unforeseen circumstances (always a possibility in a war zone), tomorrow will mark the beginning of the end of America's military presence in Iraq.

What will happen tomorrow (and by some media reports, has already occurred) is that the American forces will completely pull out of Iraqi cities and withdraw to bases outside of the towns. Iraqis are already celebrating this withdrawal, and tomorrow has been declared "National Sovereignty Day" to mark the occasion in Iraq.

What this will ultimately mean depends on a number of important factors, none of which can be accurately predicted at this point. Looking back on this date in the future, it may be seen as overdue, timely, or rashly premature. Will the violence spike as a result? Will American troops begin returning home rapidly, or slowly? Will Maliki's government be able to stand on its own? Will the Iraq military be up to the job of providing security? Will the huge political questions the Iraqis have (successfully, so far) postponed finally be addressed in one way or another? About the only concrete analysis which can be made at this point is that there are more questions right now than answers.

From Article 24 of the actual Status Of Forces Agreement (SOFA) Bush and Maliki signed (I wrote about the SOFA in more detail when it was announced, where you can find a link to download a PDF copy of it, if further interested):

2. All United States combat forces shall withdraw from Iraqi cities, villages, and localities no later than the time at which Iraqi Security Forces assume full responsibility for security in an Iraqi province, provided that such withdrawal is completed no later than June 30, 2009.

3. United States combat forces withdrawn pursuant to paragraph 2 above shall be stationed in the agreed facilities and areas outside cities, villages, and localities... before the date established in paragraph 2 above.

So now that we find ourselves at this first milestone, what is the current situation in Iraq?

The "surge" has largely wound down, which leaves us with roughly 130,000 American troops in Iraq (and an uncountable number of support contractors as well, it should be mentioned). Violence on the streets of Iraq has shown a disturbing rise in the past few weeks, as well as an overall trend in the past few months which I pointed out the last time I wrote about Iraq. In the past two weeks, this has gotten much worse, with large vehicle bombs killing dozens on the streets. But so far, even with this uptick, the violence is nowhere near as bad as it was a few years ago when a sectarian civil war was raging in the streets. Iraqi national elections are scheduled for late in the year, which raises worries about a spike in violence then as well.

Because of this, I heard an astonishing thing in a news broadcast this weekend. I don't remember if it was the journalist or the politician being interviewed, but they blithely stated that the American troop presence would stay at the current level of 130,000 for another year, before we start actually withdrawing them. Others are saying no troop reductions will occur before the end of the year, just in case violence gets out of control around the elections.

This does not sound like bringing one or two brigades home per month, I have to say. In fact, it doesn't even sound like the word "withdrawal" can be used, other than in the context of American forces "withdrawing" back to their Forward Operating Bases out in the desert.

So when will the actual withdrawal begin? Are we really going to keep the exact same troop level in Iraq for another full year before any of them start coming home? While tomorrow's date will undoubtedly be mentioned in the American news, will the followup questions be asked? Or will the answer from the Obama White House basically be "we're going to wait and see"?

If our soldiers are out of Iraqi cities, and the Iraqi security forces start shouldering more and more responsibility as a result, do we really need all 130,000 troops sitting in their bases, just in case things get a lot worse? Even if things in Iraq do get markedly worse, are we going to send them back into the cities in response, or are we going to sit back and see how the Iraqis handle it?

At some point, America is going to have to say "you're on your own" to Iraq, no matter what happens in the wake of our exit. This day will come, sooner or later. But it's hard to see why we need to remain at full troop strength for an entire year while we wait to see what does happen. Because, even during their election seasons, at some point it is going to be Iraq's problem and not ours.

I would like to see President Obama at least address this issue, even if the press doesn't bring it up (the media largely views Iraq as "boring" and "no longer news," as evidenced by Obama's last press conference -- when neither of America's wars were even brought up by the media). I would like to hear at least some vague outlines of a withdrawal plan at this point, and not just "well, we're going to pretty much stay exactly as we are for the next year." Obama needs to stand up and say something to the tune of: "After consulting with the military, if the security situation on the ground permits, we will tentatively be reducing our forces in Iraq by 20,000 - 30,000 troops by the end of this year, and reducing that number by another 20,000 - 30,000 troops next year as well. At that time, we will draw up our final withdrawal plans to bring all American troops home from Iraq."

Because, while the pullout from Iraq's cities is indeed the beginning of the end of America's involvement in Iraq, we need to know what the next step is going to be. And keeping 130,000 troops there for another full year doesn't exactly sound like the beginning of an orderly withdrawal to me.


Cross-posted at The Huffington Post


-- Chris Weigant


4 Comments on “The Beginning Of The End Of The Iraq War?”

  1. [1] 
    Michale wrote:

    Remember when Harry Reid said that the war in Iraq is "lost"?? :D

    Ya gotta love ol' Harry. He is the GOP gift that keeps on giving and giving.

    I am also constrained to point out that President Obama is navigating the EXACT course I predicted he would take. IE Give lip service to pulling out in Iraq, but pretty much do things as the Bush Administration would have done.

    Same with Gitmo.. Wanna lay down some quatloos that this time next year, Gitmo will STILL be holding the worst of the worst?? I'll even dress up again as Galt (or maybe Shaanna?? :D hehehehehe) if I lose... OK, I know that THAT particular mental picture just HAD to be disturbing.. My apologies. :D

    But getting back to Iraq. I think we are going to find that, as time moves on, our forces will be drawn back into the cities and enclaves of Iraq time and time again.

    A lot of that will depend on what happens in Iran.

    Speaking of Iran, it seems that Obama is really earning the WIMP label. Iran's leaders are flipping Obama the bird, North Korea is all but DARING Obama to do something (ANYTHING!!) about missiles and nukes and illegal weapons shipments. And now we have Hugo Chavez, Fidel Castro and President Obama in a three-way (another disturbing mental picture) over Honduras...

    I tell ya, Team Obama is taking some pretty big lumps these last weeks.

    Where is the assertive and ballsy President Obama that gave the.....

    "It's a GO!! TAKE EM DOWN!!
    -Lee Marvin, THE DELTA FORCE

    ... order to take out the Somalia pirates???

    Time will tell if Obama get's his groove back..


  2. [2] 
    Michale wrote:

    I will also make the prediction that President Obama and SecState Hillary Clinton will walk back their accusations and claim that the "coup" was actually a lawful transfer of power.

    Just like he had to do when he claimed that there really wasn't any difference between Achmedjihadist and Mousavi in Iran.


  3. [3] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    I suspect that the Obama administration is currently in the process of determining just how serious the Iraqi government is about moving toward real political reconciliation.

    The Vice President's current trip to Iraq will shed a great deal of light on that subject as there is no one better positioned than VP Biden to assess the capacity and inclination of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki's government to make the political and constitutional compromises that will be necessary to reach a sustainable political settlement.

    If Biden finds that the Iraqi government is serious about wanting to move toward national and sustainable political reconciliation, then I would expect to see President Obama working closely with the Iraqi government along with the regional and major powers and the UN to move this process forward. Under such conditions, we could expect to see a substanial further withdrawal of US forces from Iraq within the next year.

    However, if Biden determines that the Iraqi government is not serious about political and constitutional reform, then there is no reason to keep US forces in Iraq any longer and I would hope that the Iraqi government would be advised, in no uncertain terms, that there would be a hastened withdrawal of US forces - and civilians, for that matter - and a new strategy of containment would become the order of the day.

  4. [4] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Well, the Vice President's trip to Iraq shed some light on this subject alright. But, what is revealed is not a pretty sight.

    I am getting the distinct impression that neither President Obama nor Vice President Biden seem eager enough to demonstrate some bold leadership and do more than nudge the Iraqis onto the path toward national political reconciliation.

    This is not going to be easy - it never was. The political landscape in Iraq is fragmented beyond belief and the current government is corrupt and holds no legitimacy with the Iraqi people. And, there is little or no trust between Iraqis or in their current government.

    Only bold US leadership will have the heft necessary to bring all Iraqis together - and I mean all Iraqis...those inside and outside of the current government, those who have been willing to talk political reconciliation under the yolk of foreign occupation and those who have had no inclination to do so, secularists and Islamists, a representative cross-section of the Iraqi population.

    So far, the Obama-Biden administration has not demonstrated that they are willing to withdraw US forces or call an international conference to promote a sustainable political agreement between all of the players in Iraq. We are now six months into this new administration and nothing substantive has happened with respect to a withdrawal of US forces as per the June 30 deadline or on the political and constitutional reform front.

    I'm thinking if it hasn't begun to happen by now, it's not going to get any easier down the road and certainly not once we get into another (US) election cycle, which may have already begun!

    We can only hope that we don't have to see a return to the vicious and self-sustaining cycle of sectarian violence before we see real movement on the diplomatic and political front - God knows the Iraqi people haven't asked for it and don't deserve it and, by then, it may be too late to solve this crisis.

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