The headline on a recent Daily Beast story was “Are we really done with Iraq?” I doubt it, even though Barack Obama is saying our involvement there will end in a few months. Interesting that Obama conveniently left out the fact that the U.S. is withdrawing its remaining forces reluctantly, after a breakdown in negotiations with the Iraqi government:
It was in the final months of George W. Bush’s presidency that the United States negotiated an agreement to withdraw its troops from Iraq by the end of 2011.
In his first year as commander in chief, Obama promised to adhere to the timeline, even though many US and Iraqi military leaders said some American forces should remain in the country. The US position on the 2011 date changed this year, however. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and his predecessor, Robert Gates, said publicly that some US troops should remain in the country after the withdrawal. The conflict has claimed 4,200 American lives.
Proponents of remaining in Iraq argued that the smaller US footprint would be needed to train the Iraqi military on new American equipment – and as a trip wire if sectarian tensions flared up again and threatened to plunge the country into another civil war.
The negotiations over the 2011 deadline continued into this month, but eventually the talks broke down after the Iraqi side would not extend legal immunity to US soldiers and contractors in Iraq.
On Friday, Obama presented the loss at the negotiating table as a political victory. “As promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year,” the president said. “After nearly nine years, America’s war in Iraq will be over.”
But the end of the war does not mean the end of the US presence in Iraq. Indeed, speaking after the president’s brief announcement, Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough acknowledged that the United States would continue to train Iraq’s military in the new weaponry that Obama has agreed to sell the government that emerged after US troops toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Just this year, the Pentagon approved a sale of F-16s to Iraq’s air force.
Also remaining in Iraq will be military contractors who currently protect American diplomatic missions in Iraq, such as the US Embassy in Baghdad and the consulate in Irbil.
This should be interesting, especially in light of the fact that influential rabble-rousing anti-American Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr isn’t at all happy that U.S. mercenaries will remain after the pullout of soldiers and Marines.