In late May 2009 General George Casey, the U.S. Army Chief of Staff said that the United States could be in Iraq for the next ten years. American forces could actually stay longer. Under the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) U.S. troops are to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011. Iraq’s security forces however, will not be able to defend the country by then, most likely leading Baghdad to ask the U.S. to leave behind a residual force to protect Iraq from external threats until the government is able to fulfill its duties.
At the end of February 2009 President Barak Obama announced his withdrawal plan from Iraq. He said that the U.S. drawdown would follow the SOFA signed between the Bush White House and Baghdad. That called for U.S. combat troops to be out of Iraq’s cities and towns by June 30, 2009. They would then relocate to major bases, some of which are going to be conveniently designated outside of city borders like Camp Victory and Forward Operation Base Falcon, both within Baghdad. There are also plans for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government to ask the U.S. to stay in selected joint security stations in the capital, Mosul, and perhaps a few other cities. U.S. forces would then go down from about 140,000 to 128,000 by September 2009. They would stay at that level until Iraq’s parliamentary elections are completed. Originally those were planned for the end of this year, but have now been pushed back to January 30, 2010. Based upon conditions in Iraq, Americans troops would then go down to around 50,000 by the end of August 2010, but that now may be delayed because of the change in schedule for the balloting. The 50,000 would be tasked with advising Iraqi troops, conducting anti-terrorist operations, providing security to U.S. civilians and reconstruction teams, as well as protecting supply convoys. By December 31, 2011 those remaining troops are to be withdrawn. There is one major problem with this plan, Iraqi forces will not be able to protect the country by that date.
The Iraqi army and police have gone through a massive expansion, but still have many years to go. There are now 725,691 in the Iraqi security forces. Their development has been uneven, and there are still plenty of problems to overcome. One of the most important is the fact that the armed forces do not have the heavy weapons such as jetfighters, artillery, and boats, to defend the country from external threats. Originally, the Iraqi Defense Ministry had pegged 2020 as the date they would be capable of national defense. However, because of the country’s financial problems with the drop in oil prices these ideas have now been put on hold. There will be no expansion of the Iraqi Army or major purchases of weapons this year. The Iraqi Air Force wanted to buy 96 F-16 fighters from the United States by 2020. Baghdad doesn’t have the money for that. They don’t even have the funds to maintain what they have now. The U.S. donated 5,000 Humvees to the Iraqi forces, and are expected to turn over another 4,000 as part of the withdrawal. The Americans told the Defense Ministry that they needed $68 million for spare parts to keep up these vehicles, but only $1 million was appropriated. The Iraqis are salvaging spare parts from broken down Humvees to keep others still running as a result.
President Obama and the Iraqi government will have the ultimate decision as to whether the U.S. will stay past 2011. The President has said he doesn’t plan on asking Iraq to let the Americans stay after that deadline, but at the same time he has been very open to the advice of his military commanders. When deciding on the withdrawal timeline he picked the middle path between his promise of getting U.S. troops out in 16 months and the U.S. military command in Iraq’s wish to take 23 months. It would be hard to believe that they won’t advocate staying longer in Iraq if the government can’t protect its air, sea, and borders yet. Baghdad is said to have a similar opinion. Many things can happen between now and 2011, but the way it stands now it looks like the U.S. will be in Iraq for several more years after that date.
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