Former vice president Joe Biden took credit for withdrawing 150,000 United States troops from Iraq during the Democratic presidential debate. But the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq was part of a status of forces agreement (SOFA) President George W. Bush established with the Iraqi government.
As the Washington Post reported in November 2008, “The Bush administration agreed to a total withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011.” The agreement also placed “additional restrictions on how U.S. troops conducted missions,” and required a “pullout from Iraqi urban areas by July 2009.”
In fact, in early 2011, Obama and his advisers planned to keep a residual force in Iraq, but they didn’t tell Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki or the American people.
According to James F. Jeffrey, a former U.S. ambassador to Turkey and Iraq, “Washington had to determine the size of a residual force. That dragged on, with the military pushing for a larger force, and the White House for a small presence at or below 10,000, due to costs and the president’s prior ‘all troops out’ position. In June, the president decided on the force level (eventually 5,000) and obtained Mr. Maliki’s assent to new SOFA talks.”
MSNBC host Rachel Maddow said to Biden, “You made your decades of experience in foreign policy a pillar of your campaign, but when the time came to say yes or no on one of the most consequential foreign policy decisions of the last century, you voted for the Iraq War.”
“You have since said you regret that vote. But why should voters trust your judgment when it comes to making a decision about taking the country to war the next time?” Maddow asked.
“Once Bush abused that power, what happened was, we got elected after that. I made sure—the president turned to me and said, Joe, get our combat troops out of Iraq. I was responsible for getting 150,000 combat troops out of Iraq, and my son was one of them,” Biden declared.
Biden was referring to this moment, which Antony Blinken, Biden’s national security adviser, recounted for The Atlantic. “We were sitting in the Oval Office one day and talking about [the troop presence], and Obama looked at Biden and said, ‘Joe, I think you should do this. We need sustained focus from the White House. You know Iraq better than anyone.’”
But what he oversaw was meetings and negotiations within the framework of the SOFA from the Bush administration.
In October 2011, it was reported the Obama administration would stick to a December 31 withdrawal deadline set in 2008. The administration would not leave thousands of U.S. troops in Iraq.
The reason U.S. troops did not stay in Iraq past the withdrawal deadline had nothing to do with ending the war. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and other top military officials demanded a deal that included immunity for personnel from prosecution for war crimes.
CNN reported, “The Iraqis refused to agree to that, opening up the prospect of Americans being tried in Iraqi courts and subjected to Iraqi punishment.”
“The negotiations were strained following WikiLeaks’ release of a diplomatic cable that alleged Iraqi civilians, including children, were killed in a 2006 raid by American troops rather than in an airstrike as the U.S. military initially reported,” CNN additionally reported.
A diplomatic cable disclosed by Chelsea Manning and published by WikiLeaks revealed details of a U.S. military raid that killed several women and children.
The classified U.S. State Embassy communications log from Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, detailed how American troops approached an Iraqi man’s home on March 15, 2006. They handcuffed residents and executed all of them. An air raid was called in to destroy the house.
“Iraqi TV stations broadcast from the scene and showed bodies of the victims (i.e. five children and four women) in the morgue of Tikrit. Autopsies carried out at the Tikrit Hospital’s morgue revealed that all corpses were shot in the head and handcuffed,” the cable indicated.
The Bush administration avoided responding to any communication related to the matter, Alston told The Guardian, as the cable impacted negotiations with Iraq.
Given that, the credit for forcing the completion of the withdrawal of U.S. troops should also go to Chelsea Manning, who is in jail for refusing to testify before a grand jury investigating WikiLeaks, and WikiLeaks and their founder Julian Assange, who faces extradition for publishing classified information.
Manning and WikiLeaks sparked a moment that led to the end of the Iraq War. It is unclear what Biden did to ensure troops did not remain in Iraq past the 2011 withdrawal deadline.