By Raed Jarrar
Last week, the last U.S. “combat convoy” left Iraq. By the end of this month, the remaining “combat forces” will leave the country, putting the Obama administration on track to reduce the U.S. troop level to 50,000 by August 31.
The U.S. media coverage of this month’s withdrawal has been very confusing and inaccurate. It ranges from mainstream media outlets claiming that this is the end of the Iraq war, to leftist media accusing the Obama administration of pulling a trick to re-brand the occupation. This withdrawal deadline is neither.
No one, including the U.S. and Iraqi governments, is claiming this is the end of the war, and neither governments have expressed any intention to cancel or modify the terms of the binding bi-lateral Security Agreement. This month’s deadline is only a technical step forward in the withdrawal plan.
The Security Agreement that was signed between the U.S. and Iraq in 2008 set a clear plan with two deadlines for the U.S. departure. The first deadline required all the U.S. “combat forces” to withdraw from Iraqi cities, towns and villages by June 30, 2009. That withdrawal was implemented on time. The second deadline requires all U.S. troops and DOD contractors to leave Iraq completely, yes completely, before December 31, 2011. This deadline also requires that all U.S. military bases be shut down or handed-over to the Iraqi government.
What happened this month is not even included in the bi-lateral Security Agreement. Rather, it is a self-imposed deadline that was announced by President Obama on the campaign trail. According to this month’s deadline, all the U.S. “combat troops” must leave the country, bringing down the troop level to less than 50,000 and the contractors number to less than 75,000. In addition, August 31 will be the last official day of “Operation Iraqi Freedom”, and the U.S. mission thereafter will be called “New Dawn”.
Both the U.S. and Iraqi governments have been very clear about their intention to abide by the Security Agreement, and to bring the number of U.S. troops, DoD contractors, and military bases to ZERO by the end of next year.
That said, there is a loophole in the agreement that might allow the U.S. State Department, oil companies, or other foreign companies to maintain security contractors in Iraq beyond the December 31, 2011 deadline. For example, the current number of U.S. State Department’s security contractors in Iraq is around 3,500 but a New York Times piece last week revealed a plan to increase this number to 7,000 by the end of next year. While this does not constitute a legal breach of the bi-lateral Security Agreement, and while all such contractors will not enjoy legal immunity anymore, it is still a worrisome sign that the U.S. government is planning to continue interfering in Iraq after the end of the military occupation.
This loophole has led some voices in the U.S. to dismiss the entire bi-lateral Security Agreement and claim that this occupation will never end. But falling in a quagmire of skepticism will not end the occupation either. I think the Security Agreement will end the military occupation if it is implemented as agreed upon, and at the same time I believe there is more work that should be done to ensure other U.S. interventions in Iraq are dealt with as well.
For 19 years, Iraq and the U.S. have been in a state of war. It started with the 1991 war, and continued through three major bombing campaigns and semi-daily attacks during the 13 years of sanctions, culminating in the 2003 invasion and seven years of military occupation. Millions of Iraqis have been killed, injured, traumatized, displaced or forced to flee and live as refugees. The situation in Iraq has been miserable for years, and Iraq is still broken until now. Iraq will most likely not be a stable and secure country by the end of next year either.
Yet, prolonging the U.S. intervention will only exacerbate the challenges Iraq is facing. When President Obama took office, we were 1,000 days away from the December 31, 2011 deadline for ending the military occupation. Now, we are half way there. Ending the U.S. military occupation next year might not be the silver bullet that would end Iraq’s crisis, but it is the only way to allow Iraqis to move forward and start solving their problems.Filed Under guest post, iraq, obama