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US to Withdraw All Troops from Iraq

The Associated Press reports that the Obama Administration has abandoned plans to keep military troops in Iraq beyond the December 2011 deadline. The Administration could not secure immunity from prosecution for its troops operating in the country, so they’ve decided to bug out instead. A substantial amount of personnel will remain at the US Embassy and some satellite diplomatic outposts in Iraq (in Basra, Irbil and Kirkuk), perhaps up to 11,000 foreign service officials, with another 5,000 private military contractors guarding them. There will be around 150 military personnel attached to the Embassy for protection and facilitating sales of armaments, but that’s standard practice around the world.

This is the right move for the wrong reason. The troops are coming home only because Iraq’s government would not give legal immunity to the remaining forces in the field.

Throughout the discussions, Iraqi leaders have adamantly refused to give U.S. troops immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts, and the Americans have refused to stay without it. Iraq’s leadership has been split on whether it wanted American forces to stay. Some argued the further training and U.S. help was vital, particularly to protect Iraq’s airspace and gather security intelligence. But others have deeply opposed any American troop presence, including Shiite militiamen who have threatened attacks on any American forces who remain.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has told U.S. military officials that he does not have the votes in parliament to provide immunity to the American trainers, the U.S. military official said.

A western diplomatic official in Iraq said al-Maliki told international diplomats he will not bring the immunity issue to parliament because lawmakers will not approve it.

The Administration wanted a training force of 5-7,000 troops to stay in the country. But since they would be liable for prosecution inside Iraq if they committed a crime, they will be pulled out instead.

As I mentioned, you will still have an unspecified presence of State Department personnel and private military contractors in Iraq, so there is a sense that you’re mainly changing uniforms here. But the presence of people with guns will certainly go down quite a bit. Someone will need to train the Iraqis on the military equipment they just bought from the US. The most likely outcomes there are either the military contractors will send their own trainers, the State Department will take over the training mission through their diplomatic presence, or military personnel will train the Iraqis somewhere outside Iraq, like in Kuwait.

Iraq has not been a top priority for this Administration, which shifted forces to Afghanistan and increasingly to secret wars and drone strikes around the world, and it has not been a top priority for the public in recent years, becoming just another forgotten post-9/11 war. But it wasn’t so long ago that this was the major political issue facing the nation. Now it will be over, and since we have virtually no ability to control events in Iraq, that’s a positive development. The Administration isn’t going willingly – if Iraq could guarantee immunity, some troops would be staying – but they are going.

It’s almost surreal to think that this totally unnecessary war, which cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, thousands of Americans and hundreds of billions of dollars, will actually be over in a matter of months. It was a tragic mistake that needed desperately to come to a close. And now, it will.

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David Dayen

David Dayen

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