President Obama’s announcement on Friday that every single American troop will be out of Iraq by Christmas received mixed responses from a nation tired of wars and a dismal economy.
While many welcomed the news that the troops would be brought home, ending the costly conflict that began when dictator Saddam Hussein was overthrown in 2003, others were more skeptical. Critics worry that by not leaving any troops behind to maintain stability and American influence in the region, Iran, the Islamic Republic to the north, will see the move as an American surrender.
“This retreat will have great costs for the United States," Frederick Kagan, a military historian at the American Enterprise Institute, told USA Today.
"How can we claim to be taking a firm line against Iran while giving Tehran the single most important demand it has pursued for years – the complete withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Iraq?"
Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) agreed, telling ABC’s This Week that he is very concerned about increased Iranian influence in Iraq. He called the decision a “serious mistake.”
The United States had planned to leave between 3,000 and 5,000 troops – although military officials had requested 20,000 – in Iraq. However, the Obama administration claims that negotiations with the Iraqis failed and they would not accept any American presence in the region after December.
This failure is the result of Iraq’s internal politics and the U.S.’ ability to mend conflicts between the country’s political players, Ned Parker of the Council on Foreign Relations writes.
“If the U.S. military were to keep three thousand to five thousand military ‘trainers’ as planned, Iraq's parliament would have had to grant the force immunity.”
The Iraqi government has been split ever since the 2010 election ended in a draw between Nuri al-Maliki and his rival Ayad Allawi of the Iraqiya bloc. Therefore, the U.S. decided that Maliki was to remain prime minister and the defense minister was to be chosen from the Iraqiya bloc. Allawi was supposed to head a new national security council.
However, Maliki changed his mind and refused any of the Iraqiyas for minister. The Iraqiyas remain largely opposed to U.S. troops in the region unless they are allowed to be included in the defense and security positions. Now, anti-American sentiment growing among the Iraqiyas puts the country’s fledgling democracy at risk.
“The loss of U.S. troops will be most deeply felt by Iraq's Counter-Terrorism Force, its best weapon against al-Qaeda and Shiite extremist groups,” wrote Parker. “The Counter-Terrorism Force benefitted from a long-standing partnership with U.S. special forces, which have provided helicopters and intelligence assets that enabled the elite Iraqi fighters to thwart its enemies.
“They will now lose those capabilities. For al-Qaeda-inspired groups or Shiite extremists wishing to destabilize the Iraqi government, the loss of such U.S. tools is welcome news.”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tried to warn against such thinking on Sunday. On CNN, she said Tehran would be “badly miscalculating” if they thought the withdrawal of U.S. troops meant the American military was not committed to the region.
However, Iranian-backed Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who controls a sizable bloc in parliament and half a dozen government ministries, said in a statement, according to The Wall Street Journal:
"We are awaiting full [U.S.] withdrawal, which will come as a result of the efforts and strength of the resistance fighters.”
Al-Sadr also said that his militia would “target any attempt by the U.S. to leave an oversize diplomatic and security presence at its Baghdad embassy as a way to keep influence after combat troops are gone,” according to the Journal.
WSJ also reported that Maliki has downplayed fear of Iranian influence, saying on Saturday that Iraq speaks “about our interest as Iraqis first and we do not speak about the interest of others.”