Two officials tell Politico no decision’s been made, two others — one a “senior administration official,” the other a “senior U.S. military official” — confirm to the AP that it’s a done deal. The word last month was that the Pentagon wanted no fewer than 27,000 troops left at year’s end. When the White House pushed back, commanders said they could make do with 10,000 with extreme effort. The administration’s response? Try 3,000, a number that reportedly left the brass “livid.”
And now, a month later, here we are.
The U.S. is abandoning plans to keep U.S. troops in Iraq past a year-end withdrawal deadline, The Associated Press has learned. The decision to pull out fully by January will effectively end more than eight years of U.S. involvement in the Iraq war, despite ongoing concerns about its security forces and the potential for instability.
The decision ends months of hand-wringing by U.S. officials over whether to stick to a Dec. 31 withdrawal deadline that was set in 2008 or negotiate a new security agreement to ensure that gains made and more than 4,400 American military lives lost since March 2003 do not go to waste…
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.
The only American soldiers left will be a force of 160 stationed at the embassy in Baghdad for protection.
Troop immunity is the ostensible stumbling block but there’s obviously political benefit in this movie at the top on both sides. Obama gets to check the box of having ended the war (as he’s fighting new ones in Libya, Uganda, and Yemen) just in time for his re-election campaign, which will help with that crucial .00001% of leftists who deeply oppose American military intervention even when there’s a Democrat in office. Maliki, meanwhile, gets to say that he finally ousted the occupier to the great delight of Iran and the Shiite religious parties on whom he relies for political support and paramilitary muscle. The Sadrists, needless to say, will be thrilled. I get why the White House would rather walk away than concede on the immunity clause — an agreement without one would be exploited by anti-American elements in Iraq — but the optics of leaking this days after the world found out about the Iranian terror plot in D.C. are surreal. At a moment when Iran’s trying to expand the war to the streets of Washington, our big countermove is to … eliminate our military presence next door? Iraqi Sunnis were already worried about the implications of a steep drawdown before today’s announcement, with one Anbari cab driver telling WaPo, “the United States is handing Iraq to Iran on a golden platter.” With American troops completely gone, their fears about an unchecked Shiite menace may lead them to take desperate measures.
Those fears aren’t unfounded either. If you read nothing else that I’ve linked here, at least read this National Journal piece describing Maliki’s metamorphosis into “Saddam lite.” He’s not beating people or having protesters shot (yet), but he’s happy to imprison and intimidate his opponents — including Iraqi journalists. Likewise, and almost alone among Arab leaders, Maliki is already so heavily influenced by Tehran that he’s taken to shilling for the degenerate across his other border in Syria. Maybe Obama looked at all of that and thought the country is a lost cause, fated to sink into brutality whether or not a division of U.S. troops remains in place, and decided we might as well pull the plug. In fact, per National Journal, “Maliki, according to several of his aides, also thinks that Washington is so eager to prevent him from aligning with Iran that it won’t bicker with him about his treatment of political rivals, human-rights activists, or journalists.” If that’s the current bargain, where we retain same token influence over him while he runs roughshod over the country’s fledgling democracy, Obama might conclude it’s better to get our men out of harm’s way and our imprimatur off of whatever’s coming next. Either way, nothing but bad options. As always.