Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Iraq’s Army Chief Of Staff Changes His Tune On Extending U.S. Military Presence

The Chief of Staff of Iraq’s military General Babaker Zebari gave an interview to the online Kurdish paper Rudaw at the end of April 2011. In it, he said that American troops were not needed past the December 31, 2011 deadline. He also stated that their departure might be best for the country. That was a complete one-hundred and eighty degree reversal from previous statements that the general had made in support of an extended U.S. troop presence in Iraq.

On April 28, Rudaw published an interview with the Iraqi Army’s Chief of Staff General Babaker Zebari. The general told Rudaw that the Iraqi armed forces would not be capable of defending the country’s borders or airspace until 2020. He said that didn’t mean that Iraq had to depend upon the United States for military assistance. Instead, Baghdad could work with NATO and other countries to help with national defense. He went on to say that the American presence in Iraq fostered domestic opposition, and that if they did get an extension, it would cause more problems than solutions. Finally, Zebari stated that whether the U.S. troops stayed or went would be a political decision left to the nation’s leaders.

Nine months before, General Zebari was quoted as saying the exact opposite. In August 2010, the Chief of Staff repeated the line that 2020 was the date set for Iraq to have the military equipment and training necessary to protect itself from foreign threats. He therefore called on the country’s politicians to allow the U.S. troops to stay past 2011. Zebari hoped that the Americans would maintain 3-4 bases as well, to help deter neighboring countries from interfering in Iraq’s affairs. 

General Zebari’s change of tune is likely a reflection of the political situation within Iraq today, which is decidedly anti-American. Previously, the Chief of Staff was known as being close to the U.S., plus he’s a Kurd, which is one of the only groups that have publicly said that they would welcome an extended U.S. stay in Iraq. Currently however, politicians from almost all of Iraq’s leading political parties have said they would not welcome the Americans staying past 2011. For most of them, these statements are not coming from strongly held beliefs, but rather fear that anything said about keeping American forces into next year would be used by their opponents and cost them standing with the public. If Zebari were to repeat his earlier statements, he would incur the wrath of powerful personalities in the government, and that could cost him his job.  He was therefore correct that whether the U.S. soldiers stay or go will be a decision made by Baghdad because the military is following the lead of the politicians.


Adas, Basil, “US ‘may plot assassination of Al Maliki,’” Gulf News, 9/12/08

Agence France Presse, “Iraq ‘needs US military support until 2020,’” 8/11/10

Rudaw, “Army Chief of Staff: Iraqi Army Unable to Control Iraq Until 2020,” 4/28/11

Sly, Liz, “Iraqi official foresees a U.S. military presence until 2016,” Los Angeles Times, 9/8/10

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