On Friday afternoon President Barack Obama announced that "[a]fter nearly nine years, America’s war in Iraq will be over" by "the end of the year" when he withdraws "all of our troops."[1]  --  Clearly with an eye to his quest for reelection in 2012, Obama concluded by saying that "I would note that the end of war in Iraq reflects a larger transition.  The tide of war is receding. . . . we’re beginning to bring our troops home from Afghanistan . . . When I took office, roughly 180,000 troops were deployed in both these wars.  And by the end of this year that number will be cut in half, and make no mistake:  It will continue to go down."  --  But what President Obama presented as a story of success and refocusing was really the result of his failed attempt to "negotiat[e] the terms of an accord that would have kept several thousand U.S. troops in Iraq for special operations and training," the Washington Post reported Friday.[2]  --  The New York Times also emphasized the unexpectedness of the outcome and reported that "some top American military officials were dismayed by the announcement, seeing it as the president’s putting the best face on a breakdown in tortured negotiations with the Iraqis."[3]  --  The decision "represented the triumph of politics over the reality of Iraq’s fragile security’s requiring some troops to stay" for American negotiators, who gloomily look forward to dismal future consequences and hold out the prospect for revisions to a presidential announcement final in appearance only, Tim Arango and Michael Scmidt said.  --  "Sami al-Askari, a member of Parliament and close adviser to Mr. Maliki, said in an interview that, Mr. Obama’s statement notwithstanding, not much had really changed."  --  COMMENT:  Notably absent in President Obama's statement is any indication of what the war in Iraq was about.  --  The Iraq war was "an aggressive pre-emptive war against a country that posed no imminent threat" -- that is, a war crime -- as UFPPC said on the day the war began....

1.

REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT ON ENDING THE WAR IN IRAQ

By Barack Obama

White House
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
October 21, 2011

http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/10/21/remarks-president-ending-war-iraq


CORRECTION:  “Now, even as we remove our last troops from Iraq, we’re beginning to bring our troops home from Afghanistan, where we’ve begun a transition to Afghan security and leadership.”  12:49 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Good afternoon, everybody.  As a candidate for President, I pledged to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end -- for the sake of our national security and to strengthen American leadership around the world.  After taking office, I announced a new strategy that would end our combat mission in Iraq and remove all of our troops by the end of 2011.
   
As Commander-in-Chief, ensuring the success of this strategy has been one of my highest national security priorities.  Last year, I announced the end to our combat mission in Iraq.  And to date, we’ve removed more than 100,000 troops.  Iraqis have taken full responsibility for their country’s security.

A few hours ago I spoke with Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki.  I reaffirmed that the United States keeps its commitments.  He spoke of the determination of the Iraqi people to forge their own future.  We are in full agreement about how to move forward.

So today, I can report that, as promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year.  After nearly nine years, America’s war in Iraq will be over.

Over the next two months, our troops in Iraq -- tens of thousands of them -- will pack up their gear and board convoys for the journey home.  The last American soldier[s] will cross the border out of Iraq with their heads held high, proud of their success, and knowing that the American people stand united in our support for our troops.  That is how America’s military efforts in Iraq will end.

But even as we mark this important milestone, we’re also moving into a new phase in the relationship between the United States and Iraq.  As of January 1st, and in keeping with our Strategic Framework Agreement with Iraq, it will be a normal relationship between sovereign nations, an equal partnership based on mutual interests and mutual respect.

In today’s conversation, Prime Minister Maliki and I agreed that a meeting of the Higher Coordinating Committee of the Strategic Framework Agreement will convene in the coming weeks.  And I invited the Prime Minister to come to the White House in December, as we plan for all the important work that we have to do together.  This will be a strong and enduring partnership.  With our diplomats and civilian advisors in the lead, we’ll help Iraqis strengthen institutions that are just, representative and accountable.  We’ll build new ties of trade and of commerce, culture and education, that unleash the potential of the Iraqi people.  We’ll partner with an Iraq that contributes to regional security and peace, just as we insist that other nations respect Iraq’s sovereignty.

As I told Prime Minister Maliki, we will continue discussions on how we might help Iraq train and equip its forces -- again, just as we offer training and assistance to countries around the world.  After all, there will be some difficult days ahead for Iraq, and the United States will continue to have an interest in an Iraq that is stable, secure, and self-reliant.  Just as Iraqis have persevered through war, I’m confident that they can build a future worthy of their history as a cradle of civilization.

Here at home, the coming months will be another season of homecomings.  Across America, our servicemen and women will be reunited with their families.  Today, I can say that our troops in Iraq will definitely be home for the holidays.

This December will be a time to reflect on all that we’ve been though in this war.  I’ll join the American people in paying tribute to the more than 1 million Americans who have served in Iraq.  We’ll honor our many wounded warriors and the nearly 4,500 American patriots -- and their Iraqi and coalition partners -- who gave their lives to this effort.

And finally, I would note that the end of war in Iraq reflects a larger transition.  The tide of war is receding.  The drawdown in Iraq allowed us to refocus our fight against al Qaeda and achieve major victories against its leadership -- including Osama bin Laden.  Now, even as we remove our last troops from Iraq, we’re beginning to bring our troops home from Afghanistan, where we’ve begun a transition to Afghan security and leadership.  When I took office, roughly 180,000 troops were deployed in both these wars.  And by the end of this year that number will be cut in half, and make no mistake:  It will continue to go down.

Meanwhile, yesterday marked the definitive end of the Qaddafi regime in Libya.  And there, too, our military played a critical role in shaping a situation on the ground in which the Libyan people can build their own future.  Today, NATO is working to bring this successful mission to a close.

So to sum up, the United States is moving forward from a position of strength.  The long war in Iraq will come to an end by the end of this year.  The transition in Afghanistan is moving forward, and our troops are finally coming home.  As they do, fewer deployments and more time training will help keep our military the very best in the world.  And as we welcome home our newest veterans, we’ll never stop working to give them and their families the care, the benefits, and the opportunities that they have earned.

This includes enlisting our veterans in the greatest challenge that we now face as a nation -- creating opportunity and jobs in this country.  Because after a decade of war, the nation that we need to build -- and the nation that we will build -- is our own; an America that sees its economic strength restored just as we’ve restored our leadership around the globe.

Thank you very much.

END           12:55 P.M. EDT


2.

National security

ALL U.S. TROOPS TO LEAVE IRAQ BY THE END OF 2011

By Scott Wilson and Karen DeYoung

Washington Post

October 21, 2011

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/all-us-troops-to-leave-iraq/2011/10/21/gIQAUyJi3L_story.html

President Obama will withdraw all U.S. forces from Iraq by the end of the year, ending a long war that deeply divided the country over its origins and the American lives it consumed.

In a Friday morning video conference, Obama and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki agreed to a complete U.S. military departure that will fulfill a promise important to Obama’s reelection effort.  The decision drew sharp criticism from his Republican rivals, as well as expressions of relieved support from those who believe it is time for the United States to conclude a war Obama once called “dumb.”

For months, U.S. and Iraqi officials had been negotiating the terms of an accord that would have kept several thousand U.S. troops in Iraq for special operations and training beyond the year-end deadline set by the George W. Bush administration.

But Obama and Maliki, who have never developed much personal chemistry, failed to reach agreement on the legal status of U.S. troops who would stay in Iraq beyond Dec. 31.  As a result, only a contingent of fewer than 200 Marines assigned to help protect the large U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad will remain, along with a small number of other personnel to provide training related to new military sales and other tasks.

“The rest of our troops in Iraq will come home,” Obama said Friday at the White House, adding that they will “be home for the holidays.”

“After nearly nine years, America’s war in Iraq will be over,” he said.

The negotiations foundered over the U.S. demand that American troops receive legal immunity for their actions, a request Maliki was ultimately unable to sell to the anti-U.S. elements of his governing coalition after a war that many Iraqis believe has permanently altered their country for the worse.

The departure of U.S. forces could pose security problems for the Iraqi government, still beset by sectarian and ethnic divisions.  There are 39,000 U.S. troops in Iraq today, about 100,000 fewer than when Obama took office.  About 16,000 U.S. diplomats and civilian contractors will remain posted in Iraq.

If sectarian strife or other violence should break out in Iraq once U.S. forces have left, Obama could be blamed for abandoning Iraq before it was ready to protect itself.  Such criticism came quickly Friday from Republicans vying for the presidency next year.

But the result also allows for a more definitive conclusion to the U.S. military intervention in Iraq, which has cost the United States nearly $1 trillion and more than 4,400 American lives.  Obama, who separated himself from the crowded Democratic field in 2008 in part through his clear opposition to the Iraq war, will be able to tell voters as he confronts a difficult reelection campaign that he has overseen the promised end to the Iraq conflict.

Although foreign policy does not rank high in voters’ minds at a time of economic stress at home, Obama used his appearance Friday to showcase some of his accomplishments in winding down expensive wars and killing declared enemies.

Obama noted that, after the initial troop surge he authorized in Afghanistan, he is withdrawing forces from that decade-old battlefield.  He recalled the killing of Osama bin Laden in May and the “definitive end” of Moammar Gaddafi’s long, erratic rule in Libya.

“So to sum up, the United States is moving forward from a position of strength,” Obama said before shifting the focus of his brief remarks to the economy.

“Because after a decade of war, the nation that we need to build -- and the nation that we will build -- is our own, an America that sees its economic strength restored just as we’ve restored our leadership around the globe,” he said.

The plan conforms with the agreement negotiated by the Bush administration to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq at the end of 2011 -- something that many of Obama’s Republican rivals failed to note in statements criticizing the complete withdrawal.

Among them was Mitt Romney, a front-runner for the nomination who has staked out a hawkish foreign policy position.  In a statement, Romney said that the “astonishing failure to secure an orderly transition in Iraq has unnecessarily put at risk the victories that were won through the blood and sacrifice of thousands of American men and women.”

Obama administration officials and Maliki’s government have focused on how many U.S. troops should stay to continue training Iraqi national forces and monitoring potential flash points, such as the boundary between the Kurdish north and the rest of Iraq.

“Our forces are good, but not to a sufficient degree that allows them to face external and internal challenges alone,” Col. Salam Khaled of the 6th Brigade of the Iraqi army said Friday.  “The loyalty of forces is not to their homeland.  The loyalty is to the political parties and to the sects.”

Administration officials said Iraqi forces are indeed prepared to preserve the nation’s stability.

“One assessment after another about the Iraqi security forces came back saying these guys are ready, these guys are capable, these guys are proven,” Denis McDonough, the deputy national security adviser, told reporters.

Obama’s announcement came as Turkey engaged in counteroffensive strikes against Kurdish rebels in the semiautonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq.  The action is supported by NATO and the United States.

In the case of the Kurdish region, the U.S. troop withdrawal could be positive “because [the Americans] are helping Turkey in the aggression,” independent Iraqi lawmaker Mahmoud Othman, who is from the region, said in a phone interview.  “So maybe it’s better for them not to be around.”

In a statement this week, factional leader Moqtada al-Sadr, a Shiite cleric who strongly opposes the U.S. presence in Iraq, said that there must first be a complete withdrawal and that training would be allowed “only if a new agreement has been concluded once the withdrawal is completed and the oppressed Iraqi people are financially compensated.”

Earlier this year, as concerns mounted over ongoing insurgent strikes and Iranian influence in Iraq, the administration made clear its willingness to continue tasks such as training, air defense, intelligence, and reconnaissance, and joint counterterrorism missions.

Throughout the summer, the White House urged the Iraqis to come up with a list of tasks they would like U.S. forces to continue and informally spoke of leaving between 3,000 and 10,000 troops behind.

Ultimately, minority Kurdish and Sunni leaders pressed for an agreement that would allow U.S. troops to remain.  But Sadr and other opponents continued to oppose a deal, and the talks finally faltered on the immunity question.

“We will continue discussions on how we might help Iraq train and equip its forces -- again, just as we offer training and assistance to countries around the world,” Obama said.  “After all, there will be some difficult days ahead for Iraq, and the United States will continue to have an interest in an Iraq that is stable, secure and self-reliant.”

--Staff writer Dan Zak in Baghdad and special correspondent Saad Sarhan in Najaf contributed to this report.

3.

Middle East

DESPITE DIFFICULT TALKS, U.S. AND IRAQ HAD EXPECTED SOME AMERICAN TROOPS TO STAY   

By Tim Arango and Michael S. Schmidt

New York Times

October 21, 2011

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/22/world/middleeast/united-states-and-iraq-had-not-expected-troops-would-have-to-leave.html


BAGHDAD -- President Obama’s announcement on Friday that all American troops would leave Iraq by the end of the year was an occasion for celebration for many, but some top American military officials were dismayed by the announcement, seeing it as the president’s putting the best face on a breakdown in tortured negotiations with the Iraqis.

And for the negotiators who labored all year to avoid that outcome, it represented the triumph of politics over the reality of Iraq’s fragile security’s requiring some troops to stay, a fact everyone had assumed would prevail.  But officials also held out hope that after the withdrawal, the two countries could restart negotiations more productively, as two sovereign nations.

This year, American military officials had said they wanted a “residual” force of as many as tens of thousands of American troops to remain in Iraq past 2011 as an insurance policy against any violence.  Those numbers were scaled back, but the expectation was that at least about 3,000 to 5,000 American troops would remain.

At the end of the Bush administration, when the Status of Forces Agreement, or SOFA, was negotiated, setting 2011 as the end of the United States’ military role, officials had said the deadline was set for political reasons, to put a symbolic end to the occupation and establish Iraq’s sovereignty.  But there was an understanding, a senior official here said, that a sizable American force would stay in Iraq beyond that date.

Over the last year, in late-night meetings at the fortified compound of the Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani, and in videoconferences between Baghdad and Washington, American and Iraqi negotiators had struggled to reach an agreement.  All the while, both Mr. Obama and the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, gave the world a wink and nod, always saying that Iraq was ready to stand on its own but never fully closing the door on the possibility of American troops’ staying on.

Through the summer, American officials continued to assume that the agreement would be amended, and Mr. Obama was willing to support a continued military presence.  In June, diplomats and Iraqi officials said that Mr. Obama had told Mr. Maliki that he was prepared to leave up to 10,000 soldiers to continue training and equipping the Iraqi security forces.  Mr. Maliki agreed, but said he needed time to line up political allies.

Mr. Maliki was afraid that if he came out publicly in favor of keeping troops without gaining the support of other parties in Parliament, his rivals -- particularly the former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi -- would exploit the issue to weaken his shaky coalition government.  Eventually, he got authorization from the group to begin talks with the Americans on keeping troops in Iraq.

In August, after debates between the Pentagon, the State Department, and the White House, the Americans settled on the 3,000 to 5,000 number, which was reported in August.  According to two people briefed on the matter, one inside the administration and one outside, the arguments of two White House officials, Thomas E. Donilon, the national security adviser, and his deputy, Denis McDonough, prevailed over those of the military.

Intelligence assessments that Iraq was not at great risk of slipping into chaos in the absence of American forces were a factor in the decision, an American official said.

This month, American officials pressed the Iraqi leadership to meet again at President Talabani’s compound to discuss the issue.  This time the Americans asked them to take a stand on the question of immunity for troops, hoping to remove what had always been the most difficult hurdle.  But they misread Iraqi politics and the Iraqi public.  Still burdened by the traumas of this and previous wars, and having watched the revolutions sweeping their region, the Iraqis were unwilling to accept anything that infringed on their sovereignty.

Acutely aware of that sentiment, the Iraqi leadership quickly said publicly that they would not support legal protections for any American troops.  Some American officials have privately said that pushing for that meeting -- in essence forcing the Iraqis to take a public stand on such a controversial matter before working out the politics of presenting it to their constituents and to Parliament -- was a severe tactical mistake that ended any possibility of keeping American troops here past December.

But the repeated lesson of Iraqi politics is that putatively final agreements are always subject to revision.  Even now, with a definitive sounding statement from the president, the two sides are continuing to discuss a continuing military relationship.

Shortly after Mr. Obama’s remarks, which were carried on Iraqi television, Gen. Babakir Zebari, the chief of staff of the Iraqi Army, who has said previously that Iraq’s security forces would need American help until 2020, said in a statement that the country still needed military trainers.

Sami al-Askari, a member of Parliament and close adviser to Mr. Maliki, said in an interview that, Mr. Obama’s statement notwithstanding, not much had really changed.  “As we said before, the SOFA is totally different from the trainers issue, which is still under negotiation, because we have said that there is a necessity for trainers,” he said.

Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta held out the possibility of keeping a small force of American military trainers in Iraq in the future, although there are no negotiations under way on numbers or a mission.

“We’re prepared to meet their training needs, we’re prepared to engage in exercises with them, we’re prepared to provide guidance and training with regard to their pilots, we’re prepared to continue to develop an ongoing relationship with them in the future,” Mr. Panetta told reporters on his plane on Friday en route to Indonesia.

On Friday evening, an American official in Iraq, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the deliberations are confidential, said that negotiations would now center on arrangements that would begin next year, after all United States troops leave.

Possibilities being discussed are for some troops to return in 2012, an option preferred by some Iraqi politicians who want to claim credit for ending what many here still call an occupation, even though legally it ended years ago.  Other scenarios being discussed include offering training in the United States, in a nearby country such as Kuwait, or having some troops here under NATO auspices.

--Omar al-Jawoshy contributed reporting from Baghdad, Thom Shanker from Washington, and Elisabeth Bumiller en route to Indonesia.