As of 17 November, the US has a paper commitment to completely withdraw from Iraq by the end of 2011. In reality, such a withdrawal remains extremely unlikely.
On 17 November, the US ambassador to Iraq and Iraq’s foreign minister signed a Status of Forces agreement (SOFA) – not yet agreed by Iraq’s parliament – committing 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”.
The three-year agreement also: strips US contractors of immunity from Iraqi law; states that all US military operations “shall be conducted with the agreement of the Government of Iraq”; requires US forces to obtain Iraqi warrants for detentions, and to hand over detainees to the Iraqi government within 24 hours; and prohibits the use of “Iraqi land, sea and air… as a launching or transit point for attacks on other countries”.
Iraq can terminate the agreement with one year’s notice.
This represents a dramatic climb down from the original US plan for an agreement granting US forces authority to establish more than 50 long-term bases and to conduct operations and detain suspects without the approval of the Iraqi government and… without fear of prosecution in the Iraqi justice system”. The climb down is largely the result of intense domestic pressure inside Iraq. Maintaining influence
However, the chances of a total withdrawal occurring are slight.
As Oxford Research Group security analyst Paul Rogers points out: “With both the [US] and China increasingly dependent on imported oil, it is highly unlikely that there will be a full withdrawal from Iraq at any time in the next decade.”
The reason: “A complete US withdrawal would so throw Iraq open to Iranian influence that this would be perceived as a security disaster even greater than the defeat in Vietnam. Simply put, it will not happen.”
We should note that Barack Obama’s plans for Iraq always included the retention of a “residual” force – including special forces and US air force squadrons – following the withdrawal of “combat” forces. Officials on Obama’s team say this “residual” force could number as many as 50,000 troops. Patrick Cockburn points out the Iraqi national intelligence service – whose director “was handpicked by the CIA… soon after the 2003 invasion”, and which uses Saddam-era intelligence officers to spy on Iran – “is reported to work primarily for American intelligence”, who are believed to fund the agency.