Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Behind the U.S. Withdrawal From Iraq

Negotiations were repeatedly disrupted by Obama White House staffers’ inaccurate public statements.

By James Franklin Jeffrey, WSJ
Updated Nov. 2, 2014 7:31 p.m. ET

The spectacular success in early 2014 of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, an offshoot of al Qaeda in Iraq, is often blamed on the failure of the Obama administration to secure an American troop presence in Iraq beyond 2011. As the U.S. ambassador to Iraq in 2010-12, I believed that keeping troops there was critical. Nevertheless, our failure has roots far beyond the Obama administration.

The story begins in 2008, when the Bush administration and Iraq negotiated a Status of Forces Agreement granting U.S. troops in the country legal immunities—a sine qua non of U.S. basing everywhere—but with the caveat that they be withdrawn by the end of 2011.

By 2010 many key Americans and Iraqis thought that a U.S. military presence beyond 2011 was advisable, for security (training Iraqi forces, control of airspace, counterterrorism) and policy (continued U.S. engagement and reassurance to neighbors). The Pentagon began planning for a continued military presence, but an eight-month impasse on forming a new government after the March 2010 Iraqi elections delayed final approval in Washington.

In January 2011, once the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was formed, President Obama decided, with the concurrence of his advisers, to keep troops on. But he wasn’t yet willing to tell Prime Minister Maliki or the American people. First, Washington had to determine the size of a residual force. That dragged on, with the military pushing for a larger force, and the White House for a small presence at or below 10,000, due to costs and the president’s prior “all troops out” position. In June the president decided on the force level (eventually 5,000) and obtained Mr. Maliki’s assent to new SOFA talks.

(More here.)

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