Posts Tagged ‘US troops in Iraq’

The Iraq Withdrawal: Obama vs. the Pentagon

February 26, 2010

by Raed Jarrar,, Feb 25, 2010

This Monday, Army Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, asked officials in DC to approve contingency plans to delay the withdrawal of US combat forces. The next day, the New York times published an op-ed asking president Obama to delay the US withdrawal and keep some tens of thousands of troops in Iraq indefinitely. Both the Pentagon and NY times article argue that prolonging the occupation is for Iraq’s own good. According to these latest attempts to prolong the occupation, if the US were to leave Iraqis alone the sky would fall, a genocidal civil war will erupt, and Iran will takeover their nation and rip it apart.

Excuses to prolong the military intervention in Iraq have been changing since 1990. Whether is was liberating Kuwait, protecting the region from Iraq, protecting the world from Iraq’s WMDs, punishing Iraq for its role in the 9/11 attacks, finding Saddam Hussien and his sons, fighting the Baathists and Al-Qaeda, or the other dozens of stories the U.S. government never ran out of reasons to justify a continuous intervention in Iraq. Under President Bush, the withdrawal plan was linked to conditions on the ground, and had no fixed deadlines. Bush only promise what that “as Iraqis stand up, we will stand down”. But Iraqis never managed to stand up, and the US never had to stand down.

Obama came with a completely different doctrine that thankfully makes prolonging the occupation harder than just making up a new lame excuse. He has promised on the campaign trail to withdraw all combat troops by August 31st of this year bringing the total number of US troops down to less than 50,000. Obama has also announced repeatedly that he will abide by the binding bi-lateral agreement between the two governments that requires all the US troops and contractors to leave Iraq by the end of 2011 without leaving any military bases behind. Both these promises are time-based, and not linked to the conditions on the ground. In addition, President Obama announced last week his intention to call an end to Operation Iraqi Freedom by August 31st, and to start the new non-combat mission as of September 1st this. The new mission, renamed “Operation New Dawn”, should end by December 31st 2011 with the last US soldier and contractor out of Iraq.

Conditions on the ground in Iraq are horrible. After seven years under the US occupation, Iraqis are still without water, electricity, education, or health care. Iran’s intervention and control of the Iraqi government stays at unprecedented levels. Iraq’s armed forces are still infiltrated by the militias and controlled by political parties. But so far, the Obama administration has not attempted to use any of these facts as a reason to change the combat forces withdrawal plan, or to ask the Iraqi government to renegotiate the bi-lateral security agreement. This week’s calls to prolong the occupation are surprising because they expose a conflict between the Pentagon on the one hand and the White House and Congress on the other hand. In fact, the executive and legislative branches in both the US and Iraq seem to be in agreement about implementing the time-based withdrawal, but the Pentagon is disagreeing with them all.

Obama should not forget that he is the Commander-in-Chief, and should stand up to the Pentagon. Iraq is broken, but the US military occupation is not a part of the solution. We cannot fix what the military occupation has damaged by prolonging it, neither can we help Iraqis build a democratic system by occupying them. We cannot protect Iraqis from other interventions by continuing our own. The first step in helping Iraqis work for a better future is sticking to the time-based withdrawal plan that Obama has promised and the two governments have agreed upon. President Obama should send a clear message to the Iraqi people to confirm that he is going to fulfill his promises and abide by the binding security agreement with Iraq, and this message must also be clear to the American people in this pivotal elections year.

Raed Jarrar is an Iraqi-born political analyst, and a Senior Fellow with Peace Action based in Washington, DC.

Dismay at Obama plan to leave 50,000 US troops in Iraq after 2010

February 27, 2009
US troops conduct a foot patrol along the Tigris river south of Baghdad, Iraq

US troops conduct a foot patrol along the Tigris river south of Baghdad, Iraq. Photograph: David Furst/AFP/Getty images

Democratic Congressional leaders have expressed dismay that President Barack Obama is planning to leave as many as 50,000 US troops in Iraq even after the long-awaited withdrawal of combat troops next year.

Obama, on a visit to a military base in North Carolina today, will announce plans to make good on his campaign pledge to withdraw US combat troops from Iraq. There are about 145,000 US troops in Iraq and Obama is expected to say that most of the combat troops will be withdrawn by August next year.

The president called Congressional leaders to the White House yesterday to inform them in advance of his plan.

But the Congress members, most of whom were opposed to the war, expressed regret afterwards that so many, between 35,000 and 50,000, are to be left behind.

According to one congressional official, lawmakers were told that General David Petraeus, head of US Central Command, and General Ray Odierno, the top commander in Baghdad, believed the plan presented moderate risk but supported the 50,000 figure.

When Obama was on the campaign trail, his promise to withdraw US troops was widely understood to mean all US troops, even though his advisers said a large force would be left behind to help with training, as back-up support for the Iraqi government and to prevent a return of al-Qaida-linked forces.

Before meeting Obama, Harry Reid, the Democratic leader in the Senate, said he would convey his concern, saying that “talk about 50,000 – that’s a little higher number than I anticipated”.

John McHugh, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, said Obama promised him to reconsider the new strategy if violence rises. McHugh said he was worried the situation in Iraq remained fragile, especially as it approaches elections in December.

“Our commanders must have the flexibility they need in order to respond to these challenges, and President Obama assured me that there is a ‘Plan B,'” he said in a statement.

Some Democrats are sceptical but because they say it would leave too many troops behind.

“I have been one for a long time that’s called for significant cutbacks in Iraq, and I am happy to listen to the secretary of defence and the president,” senate majority leader, Harry Reid, told reporters before the briefing. “But when they talk about 50,000, that’s a little higher number than I had anticipated.”

In a separate development, the US military will allow news media to cover the return of the bodies of service personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, a reversal of George Bush’s policy of bringing the flag-draped coffins back into the country in secret.

The Pentagon has long acknowledged the toll on public support for war that images of the coffins could take. The Vietnam war was heavily televised, and media images of casualties helped turn the country against the conflict.

In 1999, a top American general said that US military conflicts must pass the “Dover test” of public reaction to casualties, named after Dover air force base in Delaware, where casualties arrive.

In 2003, with the US public already deeply divided on the war on Iraq, the Bush administration began enforcing the ban worldwide, with military officials even prohibiting photographs of body bags at bases in Iraq.

Bush administration officials said the ban protected families’ privacy. Critics said it was a heavy-handed way of keeping the public in the dark about the human toll. In Britain, photographers are permitted to cover the return of fallen soldiers.

The ban dates back to the 1991 Gulf war but was overlooked during the Clinton administration.

US and Iraq ‘agree on troops deal’

August 21, 2008
Al Jazeera, August 21, 2008

The White House has repeatedly resisted any timetable for withdrawing US troops [EPA]

The United States and Iraq have reportedly agreed to a draft deal to give US troops a legal basis to stay in Iraq after a United Nations mandate expires in December.

A senior US military official told The Associated Press that Washington had signed off on a draft agreement on reducing the American military presence in Iraq but that the deal was not final and was subject to approval by Iraqi leaders.

However, the US state department told Al Jazeera on Wednesday that any report of an agreement was “premature”.

The White House said that negotiations were still taking place.

“Discussions are ongoing with the Iraqis to finalise a bilateral agreement,” Gordon Johndroe, a White House spokesman, said.

“We are working to complete the agreement, but it is not final yet.”

Contentious issues

Al Jazeera’s Tom Ackerman said that with Iraqis facing provincial elections in the next few months, Nuri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, will be facing pressure at home not to concede anything that will affect Iraqi sovereignty and to ensure a firm end date for US troop withdrawal is set.

But Mohammed al-Haj Hamoud, Iraq’s negotiator on the deal, told the Reuters news agency that the draft reportedly agreed to does not give a timetable for the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq nor say if US troops will be subject to Iraqi law.

At present around 144,000 US troops are stationed in Iraq, but Iraqi officials have said they would like any future deal to limit the US presence on Iraqi streets by mid-2009 and withdraw all troops by 2010 or 2011.

The US government has said repeatedly that it will not seek permanent bases in Iraq.

However, it has also resisted setting any timetable for the withdrawal of troops, although last month the US government began referring to “time horizons” and “aspirational goals” for such a withdrawal.

Issues such as a timeline for withdrawing troops, their immunity from Iraqi law and the status of prisoners held by US forces have all caused repeated delays to a deal.

In May this year scores of protests against any such deal erupted in the capital, Baghdad, led by Muqtada al-Sadr, the Iraqi Shia leader.

Alongside the possible draft deal is a parallel agreement, known as a strategic framework agreement, which covers a range of political, economic and security relationships between the US and Iraq, that The Associated Press said had also been agreed to.

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