National Security Network

Withdrawal from Iraq is On Track

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Report 23 July 2009

Iraq Iraq Barack Obama George Bush iraq Nouri al-Maliki SOFA


Yesterday Prime Minister Maliki and President Obama confirmed that the United States was on track to withdraw all of its combat forces by August 2010. The meeting between the two comes in the wake of the successful withdrawal of American forces from Iraqi cities. The transition of responsibility for security from U.S. to Iraqi forces has been relatively smooth. However, the situation in Iraq remains volatile, as bouts of sectarian violence have reemerged. While overall violence has decreased since the fall of 2007, the underlying tensions between Iraq’s three main groups – Shia, Sunni, and Kurds – have not been adequately addressed. The fundamental goal of the “surge” announced by President Bush in January 2007 was to create the breathing space for political reconciliation. Yet over the last two years there has been little progress between Iraq’s three main groups in forging agreement over the nature and structure of the Iraqi state – leaving the status of key issues, such as the distribution of the country’s oil revenues, unresolved. This lack of reconciliation means that the underlying tensions that caused Iraq to descend into civil war have not gone away, as evidenced by the sporadic sectarian violence. Ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill must continue to prod Iraq’s leaders to reconcile. But ultimately it is up to Iraqis to determine their own future. Therefore it is imperative that the withdrawal of U.S. forces continue along the timeline announced by President Obama in February, as outlined in the U.S.-Iraq Security Agreement signed by President Bush.

Against backdrop of percolating violence and a reduced U.S. presence, Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki visits the U.S.  “President Obama welcomed Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq to the White House on Wednesday and said that despite occasional differences between the two nations’ military forces, the United States was on track for withdrawing combat forces from Iraq by the end of August 2010,” reported the New York Times.  At a public appearance yesterday – the highlight of Prime Minister Maliki’s visit to the U.S. - the two leaders “presented a positive portrait of the evolving relationship between the United States and Iraq,” the Times continued.  “A senior administration official described Maliki's trip as a ‘working visit,’” said the Washington Post, with the Prime Minister spending “four days in meetings with U.S. economic, trade, defense and diplomatic officials.”  

The trip followed a recent spate of bombings across the country, as well as the departure of most U.S. troops from Iraqi cities at the end of June.  The transition of responsibility from U.S. to Iraqi forces seems to have gone relatively smoothly, as an uptick in violence before the withdrawal date has now stabilized.  Maj. Gen. Daniel P. Bolger told the New York Times, “Some of these groups wanted to get credit for, quote, driving the Americans out of the city, which was kind of strange, since we told them we were leaving and didn’t make any secret of that. So there was an increase in violence, a little bit of a trough, and now we’re settling back to about four or five attacks a day.” Bloomberg reports that “Obama said that weekly reports from Army General Ray Odierno, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, have been ‘extremely positive.’ ‘The violence levels have remained low,’ Obama said. ‘The cooperation between U.S. forces and Iraqi forces has remained high.’” [NY Times, 7/23/09. Washington Post, 7/22/09. AP, 7/15/09. NY Times, 7/23/09. Bloomberg, 7/22/09]

Political reconciliation, the stated goal of the 2007 surge, remains elusive. Iraq remains a divided country.  The Washington Post reports, “the administration is concerned that ongoing political disputes between Iraqi Kurds and Arabs, between Sunnis and Shiites, and within the majority Shiite community will impede progress on economic and governance issues and may flare into another round of serious sectarian strife.” In response, the administration has appointed Vice President Joe Biden to oversee Iraq policy.  However, “Biden's job is extremely difficult, and one that the 2007 surge was designed to accomplish but has not yet succeeded in doing,” writes CAP’s Brian Katulis.   Harvard’s Steve Walt of the Harvard University writes in Foreign Policy that the Bush administration never had a plan to deal with a post-Saddam Iraq: “This goal was not achieved, and the consequences of that failure are increasingly apparent. What lies ahead is a long-delayed test of strength between the various contending groups, until a new formula for allocating political power emerges. That formula has been missing since before the United States invaded -- that is, Washington never had a plausible plan for reconstructing a workable Iraqi state once it dismantled Saddam's regime -- and it will be up to the Iraqi people to work it out amongst themselves.”  [Washington Post, 7/23/09. Brian Katulis, 7/22/09. Stephen Walt, 7/10/09.]

Though the U.S. should support Iraqis as they take charge of their own future, it must stay committed to the policy of withdrawal. Nearly six and a half years into the war in Iraq - a war which resulted in the deaths of 4,300 American servicemen and women and perhaps hundreds of thousands of Iraqis – the period of direct American involvement is coming to a close.  This does not mean that the U.S. will not support Iraqi aspirations to secure their own future.  Obama reiterated this support during yesterday’s appearance with Prime Minister Maliki, pledging to prioritize the “full transition to Iraqi responsibility and to a comprehensive partnership between the United States and Iraq based on mutual interests and mutual respect.”  The President backed this statement by offering to work toward the removal of UN sanctions levied against Iraq during the Saddam era and by encouraging Iraqis to take steps toward ethnic and religious reconciliation and political accommodation. However, the future of Iraq is in the hands of the Iraqis; U.S. forces must continue to withdraw and transition responsibility to Iraqis on a pace that is consistent with the Status of Forces Agreement signed by President Bush – as well as Obama’s pledge at Camp Lejeune to honor his campaign pledge and remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011. This plan enjoys support among Democrats, Republicans and Iraqis.  In response to Obama’s withdrawal plan, House Republican leader John Boehner said, “The plan put forward by President Obama continues our strategy of bringing troops home from Iraq as they succeed in stabilizing the country.  I believe he has outlined a responsible approach that retains maximum flexibility to reconsider troop levels and to respond to changes in the security environment should circumstances on the ground warrant.”  Even “Sen. John McCain, who lost his White House bid to Barack Obama last fall, is supporting the president's new plan to pull most U.S. troops out of Iraq by the fall of 2010,” according to CBS.  The plan also enjoys support among the American people.  CNN reports that, “Seven out of ten people questioned in a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Thursday, the sixth anniversary of the start of the Iraq war, say they support the president's announced plan to remove most U.S. troops from Iraq by August of next year but keep a force of 35,000 to 50,000 in the country.” [President Obama, 7/22/09. President Obama, 2/27/09. John Boehner, 2/27/09. CBS News, 2/27/09. New York Times, 2/26/09. CNN, 3/19/09]

What We’re Reading

Afghan President Hamid Karzai refused to participate in a televised debate amongst other presidential candidates, citing lack of rules of debate and small number of candidates invited.

Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani continues to seek additional military aid from the United States.

Gunmen kill 5 Iranian pilgrims in continuing violence in Iraq. And the GAO also reports that the American Embassy in Iraq is overstaffed and needs to be downsized.

The North Korean regime rejected Secretary Clinton’s overtures and rejected further invitations to six-party talks on their nuclear program. Clinton offered carrots – with conditions -- to the military junta in Burma.

An Al-Qaeda fighter originally from Long Island, NY details how he tried to give Al-Qaeda operational knowledge of transit systems in New York.

The Obama Administration denied the request of UN investigators looking into Guantanamo and CIA prisons. A federal judge challenged the Obama Administration on its evidence to hold one of the youngest detainees at Guantanamo.

Iranian opposition leader Mir-Hossein Mousavi said he hoped to build an enduring social movement to continue challenging Iranian’s disputed presidential election and political leadership.

The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence backed Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair’s authority to appoint top intelligence officials overseas, taking Blair’s side in his dispute over such authority with CIA director Leon Panetta.

An international court redraws boundaries of oil-rich territories in Sudan that have been a source of conflict for years.

An increasing US military presence in allied Columbia creates unwanted political pressure in a region long suspicious of American interference.

Vice President Joseph Biden continues his overseas trip with a visit to Georgia. The US relationship with the authoritarian government of Kyrgyzstan is examined.

Commentary of the Day

Nicholas Kristof explains why Talibanization continues to creep into the heartland of Pakistan.

Chisun Lee discusses how, without guidance from either Congress or the Executive Branch, federal judges have been making decision regarding Guantanamo detainees without a sufficient legal standard.

David Ignatius discusses why the CIA was unable to operationalize assassination teams against Al-Qaeda targets.

Mark Weisbrot argues that Washington has more influence in the Honduran coup that most realize, and that President Obama should use his influence to take a strong stance against the military coup.