Is the Iraq war over? Not at all.
President Obama will give a major speech on Iraq today. The oval office speech is expected to declare an end to combat operations in Iraq, and confirm the administration’s commitment to withdraw the rest of the US forces and Department of Defense (DoD) contractors before the end of next year.
Earlier this month, a US soldier on the last combat convoy out of Iraq shouted from his armored vehicle: “We won! It’s over! America, we brought democracy to Iraq!” Most of the mainstream media coverage of this month’s withdrawal sounds pretty much like that. There is a wave of inaccurate and confusing coverage claiming that the war is over, and that Iraq is a happy democracy.
The weirdest thing about this new “Mission Accomplished” festival is that neither the Iraqi government nor the Obama administration have claimed this is the end of the war. President Obama and others in his administration have called this month’s deadline a step forward within a plan that would end the occupation before the end of next year in accordance with the binding Security Agreement.
The bilateral Security Agreement that was signed between the two countries in 2008 set a clear plan with two deadlines for the US departure. The first deadline required all the US “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 US troops and DoD contractors to leave Iraq completely – yes, completely – before December 31, 2011. This deadline also requires that all US military bases be shut down or handed over to the Iraqi government.
This month’s “combat forces” withdrawal is not even included in the bilateral 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 US “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 US mission thereafter will be called “New Dawn” – simply a nominal change.
This month’s withdrawal is nothing more than a technical step forward in the withdrawal plan, and it will not have any practical implications on the situation in Iraq because of three reasons: First, the US “combat forces” have already left Iraqi cities, towns and villages since the end of June 2009, so this month’s departure will not cause any “vacuum.” Second, the term “combat forces” has no legal definition. All US forces, including the so-called noncombat forces, have the ability to engage in combat. And third, reducing or increasing the US troop level does not change the fact that Iraq is under a foreign military occupation.
Iraqis in general are not even aware of this combat forces withdrawal deadline. And believe me, even if they knew, they couldn’t care any less. What Iraqis care about are the complete departure of all US troops and mercenaries that leaves the country without a foreign occupation.
Both the US and Iraqi governments have stated that they will abide by the Security Agreement and bring the number of US troops, DoD contractors and military bases to ZERO by the end of next year. Neither government has expressed any intention to cancel or modify the terms of the binding bilateral Security Agreement.
For 19 years, Iraq and the US 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 US 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. There will be many attempts in the next 16 months to delay or cancel the withdrawal, so let’s keep the pressure on President Obama to ensure he fulfills his promises and implements the withdrawal plan as agreed upon.