Yesterday, President Barack Obama announced that he intends to withdraw a substantial number of combat troops from Iraq by August of 2010.
In a speech at Camp Lejune in North Carolina, Obama said:
“Let me say this as plainly as I can: by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end.”
He outlined a plan through which “combat troops” will be removed from Iraq, bringing troop levels down from 142,000 to somewhere in the range of 35,000 to 50,000. According to Obama, those remaining troops will remain in the country to train Iraqi security forces and to perform “targeted counter-terrorism operations on its own and in conjunction with the Iraqi forces.” Obama said that this troop range is an “estimate” and that it could change over time.
Obama further said that he intends to have all troops out of Iraq by December 31, 2011, the date mandated by the Status of Forces Agreement.
Limits to Withdrawal Plan
In the past, MediaMouse.org has been highly critical of Obama’s Iraq plan, criticizing him for both the pace and his silence on the issue of private military contractors, of which there are currently 150,000.
Author Jeremy Scahill, who wrote a best-selling book on the private military company Blackwater, has also been critical of Obama’s plan. Today, he published a piece warning that people should look at Obama’s plan with skepticism. Scahill argues that the plan is quite flexible and that the Pentagon has signaled that it is expecting to remain longer than what Obama has said publicly. Similarly, the Status of Forces Agreement that supposedly mandates US withdrawal is riddled with loopholes that could allow for a longer U.S. presence.
Reaction from Antiwar Groups
Two prominent antiwar groups reacted harshly to Obama’s statement, criticizing him for a plan that will maintain the occupation of Iraq for three more years.
The veterans group Iraq Veterans Against the War reiterated their call for a full and immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops. The organization issued a statement saying:
“Obama’s plan to slowly remove combat brigades over the next 18 months and leave a remaining 35-50,000 troops throughout 2011 is a plan for almost three more years of an unjustified military occupation that continues to claim the lives and livelihoods of our troops and innocent Iraqis.
President Obama speaks of a change in mission, from a combat role to a support role, but yet still leaves room for “conducting targeted counter-terrorism missions” with a portion of the transitional forces remaining combat-ready. He also does not include a timeline for removing the more than 150,000 private defense contractors and mercenaries still in Iraq, nor does he address the question of disallowing permanent military bases.”
The antiwar group Code Pink reacted similarly, saying that they are “disheartened” that Obama is neglecting the 16-month withdrawal time line outlined in his campaign. Code Pink co-founder Medea Benjamin said, “This timeline and leaving tens of thousands of residual troops sounds more like occupation-lite than an end to occupation.”