Iraq's "Mission Accomplished" Banner Hides True Realities of U.S. Withdrawal
by LT. COLONEL JAMES G. ZUMWALT, USMC (RET)
November 2, 2011
Above the massive bronze doors at the entrance to the US Naval Academy Chapel is etched a Latin phrase indoctrinating life’s priorities into the young midshipman passing through them. It reads “Non Sibi Sed Patraiae,” which means “Not for self but for country.” As these midshipmen embark upon a career in which they are taught always to put country first by their words and actions, they should expect nothing less from their Commander-in-Chief. However, with President Barack Obama’s announcement last month that US forces would be withdrawn from Iraq by year’s end, he decided not to address the true realities of this withdrawal. Instead, the political reality of a re-election campaign caused him to spin as positive what really is negative. By doing so, he promotes self over country.
On October 21st, Obama announced, “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.” Obama adviser James Kvall suggested the withdrawal is “an example of what happens when a leader sets a plan and sees it through.”
Spinning the withdrawal as a presidential campaign promise kept (although Obama campaigned on having US troops out by the summer of 2010 and one the announced end-of-2011 withdrawal complies with an agreement worked out by the Bush administration), what Obama neglected to say was, by his desperate actions in the months prior to the announcement, he recognized Iraq was not yet ready to go it alone. US negotiators had endeavored to get an extension for US forces to remain there to continue training Iraqis—something a majority of Iraqi leaders favored as well. However, the refusal of a minority of Iraqi leaders to give US forces immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts resulted in a diplomatic failure for Obama.
After failing to negotiate an extension specifically because Iraq was not yet ready, the Obama White House chose to put a positive spin on it by then claiming just the opposite. Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough said, “One assessment after another about the Iraqi security forces came back saying these guys are ready; these guys are capable; these guys are proven; importantly, they’re proven because they’ve been tested in a lot of the kinds of threats that they’re going to see going forward. So we feel very good about that.”
An Iraqi brigade commander, Colonel Salam Khaled, does not share such optimism.
“Our forces are good, but not to a sufficient degree that allows them to face external and internal challenges alone,” Khaled said. “The loyalty of the forces is not to their homeland; the loyalty is to the political parties and to the sects,” he added.
What Obama’s announcement failed to disclose as well is the US withdrawal opens the door for Shiite majority Iran to finally achieve what it failed to do during its 1980-1988 war with Shiite majority Iraq—dominate its neighbor. Just as Tehran has succeeded in influencing events in Lebanon through its control of the terrorist group Hezbollah, it seeks to influence events in Iraq through its control of puppets it has in place. These puppets include Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr—both of whom spent substantial time in Iran being programmed by its extremist leadership.
After a death sentence was imposed on Al-Maliki by Saddam Hussein, he fled to Syria, living there for 13 years before relocating to Iran, where he lived for eight. Although after returning to Iraq and serving as prime minister he has exhibited occasional streaks of independence, he feels beholding to Iran. When negotiations for an extended US presence failed in Iraq, he boasted he had succeeded in ending it.
Al-Maliki has also accepted a role as executioner of a group of Iranian exiles given refuge in Iraq under Saddam Hussein. The group, known as the MEK, remains isolated at Camp Ashraf as a result of the 2003 invasion. Once a terrorist organization that has long since renounced violence and has met all requirements for removal from the US Foreign Terrorist Organization list, MEK remains there due to an incalcitrant US State Department slow to act on a decision to remove it. That has left the door open for al-Maliki, at Tehran’s bidding, to attack the Camp on several occasions, killing dozens of its unarmed residents. Al-Maliki justifies his actions against them as “They are a terrorist organization with no legal basis.”
Despite pressure from the United Nations, al-Maliki has imposed an end of year deadline on MEK members to leave the country—knowing they have no place to go. Absent decisive action by the UN or US, Camp Ashraf’s residents will either be forced to return to Iran, where they will be executed, or al-Maliki will release his army to do the job on behalf of Iran. As an occupying force in 2003 which had disarmed MEK, the US retains the obligation under the Geneva Conventions to ensure the group’s safety. However, as Obama claims victory with a US withdrawal imminent, he says nothing about the fate awaiting them.
Another threat about which Obama was silent was al-Sadr.
Al-Sadr’s father, Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Sadeq al-Sadr, was murdered by Saddam in 1999 for voicing opposition to him after the Gulf war. After the 2003 invasion, the younger al-Sadr—largely on the reputation of his father—emerged as one of the most important Shiite leaders. He headed a militant army which, at various times, took on the US, the Iraqi army and rival Shia groups. A firebrand cleric, he was also known to support Shia death squads that targeted Sunnis, claiming over 1300 victims. In the aftermath of the 2007 surge into Iraq and an investigation into the murder of a rival cleric in which he was allegedly involved, al-Sadr went on a three year, self-imposed exile, to Iran—ostensibly to undertake religious studies. He returned last January to oppose—as per Tehran’s instructions—the US troop extension.
The only troops the US will leave behind in 2012 is a small Marine detachment to protect the US embassy and its personnel there, augmented by a few thousand private security contractors. Al-Sadr claims he will drive that force out as well.
The cloud al-Sadr could cast over Iraq’s post-Saddam push for democracy was not lost on the dictator. As Saddam was led to the gallows in December 2006, someone yelled, “long live Moqtada al-Sadr!” A sneering Saddam repeated the cleric’s name in a mocking tone as if to say with his last breath, Iraqis would rue the day they rid themselves of the dictator only, to see him replaced with a leader like al-Sadr.
There is another group about whose future Obama said nothing. As Iran becomes more involved in stirring up sectarian violence in Iraq and al-Maliki the puppet proves unable to control Tehran the master, among those who will suffer most are the Iraqis who put country ahead of self, working closely with US forces in hopes of achieving stability. They will pay a high price for having done so.
“So, to sum up,” said Obama in his closing remarks about the withdrawal, “the United States is moving forward from a position of strength.” This statement stands in stark contrast to the assessment of retired US Army General John Keane. Keane played a pivotal role in providing strategy and oversight on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In pulling no punches, he believes the impact of the scheduled US withdrawal will be “an absolute disaster.”
Since the 2003 invasion, more than 4400 American servicemen have lost their lives in Iraq. Their families deserve to hear from a Commander-in-Chief who is honest with them as to what barriers must yet fall so that the loss of their loved ones was not in vain. By failing to do so, Obama raises the “Mission Accomplished” banner, ignoring his obligation to act “not for self, but for country.”