Day: June 10, 2015

Bush, not Obama, decided Iraq withdrawal

As Republican candidates for President continue to raise the question of withdrawal from Iraq, “blaming” the supposed mistake on Barack Obama, I am reprinting from a previous post (published on May 2, 2014) the true story:

The notion that it was President Obama who decided to withdraw troops from Iraq is simply wrong.  Here is a first-person account from Bob Loftis, who led the failed negotiations on the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA):

[The decision to withdraw US troops] happened in mid-2008 [during the Bush Administration]. My team and I were instructed to work on an agreement that would allow a long term US military presence. At no time did the issue of withdrawal arise, even when the term “SOFA” became politically toxic in Baghdad. SOFA talks were suspended in May 2008, with the focus placed on negotiating the Strategic Framework Agreement (which would have some vague references to “pre-existing arrangements” (i.e. certain parts of CPA17). I then heard in September 2008 that…there were new SOFA talks which were about withdrawal. The “Agreement Between the United States of America and the Republic of Iraq On the Withdrawal of United States Forces from Iraq and the Organization of Their Activities during Their Temporary Presence in Iraq” was signed on 17 November 2008 by Ryan Crocker: Article 24 (1) states “All the United States Forces shall withdraw from all Iraqi territory no later than December 31, 2011.”

People will tell you that President Bush thought the agreement would be revised in the succeeding administration to allow the Americans to stay in some limited number.  But that doesn’t change the fact that it was Bush, not Obama, who decided on US withdrawal.

Once in office, Obama did try to negotiate permission for the Americans to stay.  Prime Minister Maliki didn’t want to give up jurisdiction over crimes committed by US troops.  Hard for me to fault the President for not yielding on that point, especially in light of the arbitrary arrests and detentions Maliki has indulged in since.  Nor do I think US troops in the mess that is today’s Iraq would be either safe or useful.

Note added in 2015:

The circumstances that today are giving President Obama reason to send more troops back to Iraq are dramatically different from any that could have been anticipated in 2008 or 2009. But at least now they are going back to an Iraq whose government welcomes them. Withdrawal was not a mistake. It was a reaction to the political realities both in Washington and Baghdad. Second guessing is a fool’s game, especially when conducted by Donald Trump and Rudi Giuliani.

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Defeating ISIS in Iraq

Monday the United States Institute of Peace hosted Saleem Al-Jubouri, speaker of Iraq’s parliament, on the causes of violence and instability in Iraq and what he believes Iraq needs to do going forward to fight ISIS. USIP President Nancy Lindborg delivered the opening remarks. Acting executive vice president William Taylor moderated. Here is a link to a video of the entire event.

sajbAl-Jubouri, a Sunni, blamed ISIS’s rapid rise to power on the government’s sectarian policies, corruption, and marginalization of Sunnis. The government did not heed his warnings. Iraq is now a country of displaced persons who represent a recruitment opportunity for ISIS.

The role of the Iraqi state in what lies ahead is critical. For Al-Jubouri, a stable state is the guarantor of the well being of minorities and the marginalized. In the struggle between state and non-state institutions, institutions based on elections must be maintained.

In order to defeat ISIS, the Iraqi government must foster reconciliation between Iraq’s different ethnic groups by moving away from confessionalism and regional polarization and towards greater efficiency. Al-Jubouri regards Prime Minister Abadi as a partner in the reconciliation process, which faces many challenges. No single group is to blame.

According to Al-Jubouri, Sunni tribes will only take the risk necessary to fight ISIS if they believe that they will end up better off after ISIS is defeated. They will not risk of fighting ISIS if they believe new extremists will fill the vacuum. When the tribes previously took up arms against Al Qaeda in Iraq, some of those who successfully defeated AQI were subsequently arrested by the government for carrying weapons. If the tribes defeat ISIS, they must be protected under the law once the dust settles.

Al-Jubouri said the proposed law to create a National Guard is intended to ensure that all sectors of society are partners in Iraq’s security. It was supposed to be organized by governorate. But in practice, the National Guard may be just another armed group and could provide legal cover for the Shi’a Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs).

Al-Jubouri does not view the influence of the PMUs as wholly negative. Southern Iraqis are giving their lives to repel ISIS from areas far from their homes. However, the PMUs are not disciplined and suffer in some cases from bad leadership. They have been involved in burning and looting of some captured areas.

The ideal is to strengthen official government forces and forbid all other parties from carrying weapons. But current circumstances are exceptional. The Shi’a have the PMUs, the Kurds have the Peshmerga, but the Sunnis lack a means to confront terror. The Sunni tribes must be armed, with guarantees that the weapons will reach the local population.

The Speaker’s message regarding foreign intervention in Iraq was dichotomous. Iraq needs the help of its closest friend, the US, and the international community, which should increase military assistance and push Iraq towards a more inclusive political process. However, neighboring countries’ (especially Iran’s) attempts to influence Iraqi affairs for their own gain is a problem. No country should intervene in Iraq’s internal affairs.

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