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Withdrawal from Iraq: US backtracks, UK presses on

The much-heralded US withdrawal from Iraq is turning out to be nothing of the kind. The US-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA - see PN 2504) – which commits the US to withdrawing its combat forces “from Iraqi cities, villages and localities… no later than June 30, 2009”, and to withdrawing all US forces “from all Iraqi territory no later than December 31, 2011” (article 24) – was ratified by the Iraqi Parliament on 27 November, and approved by Iraq’s presidential council on 4 December. However it wasn’t long before both the US and Iraqi governments started to backtrack.

Thus, on 11 December, a spokesperson for Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki declared that some US forces could be needed for 10 years.

Meanwhile, on 22 December, the New York Times reported that US “military planners are now quietly acknowledging that many [US forces] will stay behind [in Iraqi cities after June 2009] as renamed ‘trainers’ and ‘advisers’ in what are effectively combat roles... they will still be engaged in combat, just called something else.”

The NYT continued: “it has become clear that [Obama’s] definition of ending the war means leaving behind many thousands of American troops.”

In a December 2008 interview for PBS, US defence secretary Robert Gates was asked how large the American “residual” force would be in Iraq after 2011.

He replied that though the mission would change, “my guess is that you’re looking at several tens of thousands of American troops.”

Meanwhile, the Guardian’s Seumas Milne has noted (11 December) that “even the last minute concession of a referendum on the agreement next year will not, the Iraqi government now says, be binding”. Britain out

Meanwhile, on 17 December, British prime minister Gordon Brown announced that “all but a few hundred of Britain’s 4,100 forces [will] return home [from Iraq] by the summer.”

Reportedly, all British combat operations will end by 31 May, and all but a few hundred will leave by the end of July 2009 – though it is not clear whether the RAF will continue to bomb Iraq (as they have, on and off, since 1991).

Topics: Iraq