Making the US Withdrawal From Iraq Reality

This week, rumors that the US might delay the withdrawal of combat forces from Iraq led to much confusion and concern. These rumors are, thankfully, not true and both the US and Iraqi leaderships are going ahead with the agreed upon plan.

There are two approaching deadlines guiding the US withdrawal from Iraq. The first is August 31 of this year, which is a self-imposed deadline not included in the bilateral security agreement. The August 31, 2010, deadline requires all combat forces to be out of Iraq, bringing down the number of all troops to less than 50,000 and the number of contractors to less than 75,000. In addition, all combat operations must end and that will be officially the last day of “operation Iraqi freedom.” The second deadline is December 31, 2011, which is the end game of the binding, bilateral Security Agreement that was signed between the two countries in late 2008. According to this deadline, all remaining troops and contractors must leave the country, bringing their number down to ZERO and all bases and military installations must be shut down and/or handed over to the Iraqi government.

These two deadlines did not appear out of the blue; it took millions of Iraqis and Americans years of hard work to push for this plan. On the Iraqi side, the Parliament – the only elected entity in the Iraqi government – managed to take out provisions about permanent military bases from the Bush agreement. Iraqis demonstrated in the streets for months and demanded that their Parliament stand up to the Iraqi government and Bush administration, and they ended up succeeding in changing these provisions. The new agreement that was ratified by the Iraqi Parliament prohibits any US military bases or installations beyond 2011. On the American side, millions of Americans demonstrated against the war and occupation, and voted for Obama after he adopted a plan to withdraw all combat forces in 18 months and to withdraw all other forces in accordance with the bilateral Security Agreement.

Within the US peace movement, two equally damaging attitudes dominate: on the one hand, there are those who think Obama will end the war and, therefore, they don’t need to do anything about it. And on the other hand, there are those who think the occupation will never end and, therefore, it is a lost cause. I personally stand in the middle. I think the withdrawal plan is good enough because it requires all US armed forces and contractors to leave by the end of next year, but, at the same time, I don’t think we have enough guarantees that it will become reality. Therefore, I believe we need to do a lot of work to make sure Obama implements the plan as promised.

It is very important to understand how we’ve managed to reach the current plan, which is a good plan aimed at ending the occupation completely. But what is more important is to understand that this plan needs a lot of work until it becomes reality. We need to activate both our grassroots oversight and the Congressional oversight to make sure the Obama administration will abide by the plan and fulfill its promises and obligations.

These two approaching deadlines are recognized and supported by existing Congressional language. Section 1227 of the Defense Authorization Act and Section 9010 of the Defense Appropriations Act, both for fiscal year 2010, recognize and support the deadlines and their guiding doctrines. This language provides some Congressional oversight, but more is needed. A number of national organizations in the US, including Peace Action, are calling for more Congressional oversight and White House accountability. You can learn more about Peace Action’s campaigns here.

The August 31 deadline is being challenged by the spike of violence in Iraq and by a drumbeat in Washington trying to use that violence as an excuse to justify prolonging the occupation. Giving into skepticism will take us nowhere, and believing that Obama will do our work for us is not the answer either. We need to work hard to make sure that the plan for withdrawal becomes reality and that this tragic war with Iraq comes to an end.