American forces are supposed to withdraw from Iraq by December 31, 2011. The U.S. wants a troop extension. A recent report by Fox News points to a division between the White House and the military over how many soldiers should stay. The Pentagon wants to keep a large and robust force, while the Obama administration is willing to keep a much smaller amount of soldiers, one that could easily be withdrawn in the future.
|How many U.S. troops are staying and going?|
On September 6, 2011, Fox News reported an on-going dispute between the U.S. military and the Obama administration over future troop levels in Iraq. Fox claimed that President Obama had agreed to keep just 3,000 U.S. troops in Iraq by the end of the year, while several generals were lobbying for 14,000-18,000. The officers complained that a force of 3,000 could only be used for training Iraqi forces and not anti-terrorism or any other types of operations. Three senators also criticized the decision. The argument over force levels in Iraq is part of a larger debate going on between the White House, the military, and think tanks over when the United States military should leave the country. Many officers and think tanks argue that the Americans should have a large and open-ended presence in Iraq, while the administration appears to be content to draw down forces and limit their operations.
The U.S. military and a few think tanks have made a concerted effort to convince Iraq, and sometimes the press that America needs to stay in Iraq indefinitely. Their main arguments are that violence will return, politics will remain deadlocked, and Iran will take over. First, they argue that U.S. forces are needed to maintain the peace along the disputed territories between the Kurds and the central government. The U.S. military is also needed for counterterrorism operations against Al Qaeda in Iraq, insurgents, and Shiite Special Groups. Second, Iraqi politics have been deadlocked after the March 2010 national elections, and the country still has a developing democracy, which is plagued by institutional problems such as corruption. The advocates of an extended U.S. stay believe that it can leverage its presence and aid to push Iraqi politics forward and keep it on the right path. Last, officers and some think tanks believe that the greatest threat to Iraq is Iran. They believe that the U.S. military is the only deterrent to Tehran controlling Iraq. These arguments have several problems. In terms of the Arab-Kurd dispute, the United States is not working to alleviate the situation. The joint patrols it created along the disputed territories just maintained the status quo, and the Americans have already pulled out of most of them. The future of the conflicted areas will be determined by political deals not by any U.S. military presence, so their continued stay will not resolve the issue. As for Iraqi politics, they are driven by long-term rivalries dating back to the Saddam era. No matter how much the Americans lobby the Iraqis, they will not likely be able to overcome these differences. Also this can be done by U.S. diplomats working out of the Baghdad embassy, and do not require the military. Finally, Iran and Iraq have been intertwined for centuries. In recent times, both the Shah of Iran and the ayatollahs have supported armed groups and tried to have sway in the country. Whether the U.S. stays or goes that will hold true into the future. Again, countering Iranian influence can be done with American diplomats, because the continued military presence just leads to Tehran supporting Special Groups to attack them, and has not significantly reduced its pull in Baghdad for the last eight years.
The White House and the military appear to be at odds currently over the future of America’s Iraq policy. The problem stems from the fact that the military doesn’t believe that Iraq can run itself. It thinks that everything will fall apart if it were to ever leave. That’s why it has been pushing for a troop extension with as many soldiers as it can. It wants to continue on with all of its operations after the December 31 deadline, just with fewer troops, and thus maintain the status quo. The reality is that politically, the Iraqi government and parties cannot keep a large American presence because the public and many politicians do not want them to stay. The longer they do, the more resentment grows against them. That’s why Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has only called for a small training force to stay rather than the larger force the U.S. has been lobbying for. The decision by President Obama seems to be pointing to the White House being completely fine with a reduced U.S. military role in Iraq, and for the majority of the soldiers to come home. Most of the fighting in Iraq has ended, so Iraq’s future will be determined by its economic and political development. That can be best influenced by the U.S. embassy, rather than a large number of troops staying.
Aswat al-Iraq, “Americans to stop joint operations in North Iraq,” 7/25/11
Davis, Aaron, “In Kirkuk, a test of U.S. peacekeepers’ lasting impact,” Washington Post, 2/8/11
Fox News, “Sources: Obama Administration to Drop Troop Levels in Iraq to 3,000,” 9/6/11
Loney, Jim, “Analysis: Kurds serve warning as U.S. withdrawal nears,” Reuters, 7/31/11
Pollack, Kenneth, “Something Is Rotten in the State of Iraq,” National Interest, 8/24/11
Schmitt, Eric and Myers, Steven Lee, “Plan Would Keep Small Force In Iraq Despite Deadline,” New York Times, 9/6/11
Stewart, Phil, “U.S. troops in Iraq will need immunity: U.S. chief,” Reuters, 8/2/11
Sullivan, Marisa Cochrane, “Obama’s Iraq Abdication,” Wall Street Journal, 7/28/11
Al-Zaman, “Majority in Iraqi Parliament Against Granting U.S. Trainers Immunity,” MEMRI Blog, 8/15/11
Zenko, Micah, “It’s Hard to Say Goodbye to Iraq,” Foreign Affairs, 7/28/11