Gates Hints U.S. Could Stay In Iraq, But It Looks Like The Iraqis Don’t Want Us

Defense Secretary Gates hinted this week that the U.S. would stay in Iraq if the Iraqis wanted. It doesn't seem like they do.

During his visit to Iraq on Friday, Defense Secretary Gates hinted that U.S. forces could stay in Iraq past the expiration of the current Status Of Forces Agreement at the end of the year if the Iraqis wanted:

MOSUL, Iraq—U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates pressed senior Iraqi officials Friday to decide whether they want U.S. troops to remain in the country beyond their scheduled departure at year’s end.

In a meeting with U.S. troops on Friday, Mr. Gates said his three-day visit to Iraq had been “all about” whether American boots will remain on the ground in Iraq beyond the current Dec. 31 withdrawal deadline.

“If there is to be a presence, to help with some of the areas where [the Iraqis] still need help, we’re open to that possibility,” he told soldiers. “But they have to ask.”

During the course of his trip, Mr. Gates met with Iraq’s top leaders—Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq, President Jalal Talabani and Kurdistan Regional Government President Masoud Barzani—to deliver a message: The U.S. is willing to stay beyond 2011, if invited.

But Mr. Gates emphasized that Iraq must act soon because the U.S. military is heavily engaged in Afghanistan and responding to crises in Japan and Libya. “Time’s running out in Washington, because we’ve got a lot going on around the world,” he said.

Of course the “we’ve got a lot going on around the world” thing is arguably a reason that we shouldn’t be volunteering to keep up 50,000 troops in Iraq for no seemingly good reason, especially since Prime Minister al Maliki has previously said he doesn’t want to renew the SOFA and at least one sizable group of Iraqis made it clear yesterday that they don’t want us there:

BAGHDAD — A day after Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates suggested that American troops could remain here for years, tens of thousands of protesters allied with Moktada al-Sadr, the radical anti-American Shiite cleric, flooded the streets demanding an end to the American military presence.

The protests were scheduled before Mr. Gates’s comments — made on Friday during a visit to troops in northern Iraq — although his statements may have fueled some of the day’s fervor. The protesters were whipped up by comments drafted by Mr. Sadr, who is continuing his religious studies in Iran but who sent a message to the crowd threatening to reconstitute his militia, the Mahdi Army, if the American military did not leave this year.

“The first thing we will do is escalate the military resistance activity and reactivate the Mahdi Army in a new statement which will be published later,” Mr. Sadr’s representative, Salah al-Obaidi, told the crowd. “Second is to escalate the peaceful and public resistance through sit-ins.”

A demonstration against the American invasion is held each April 9, the anniversary of the fall of Baghdad in 2003 and the date when Iraqis, with the help of American Marines, pulled down a statue of the dictator Saddam Hussein in Firdos Square in Baghdad.

Posters that proclaimed “Down with America” were distributed to the crowds, and some people burned American flags and chanted slogans like “Get out! Get out! America the great devil!” Others spoke of their “religious duty” to “expel the occupier.”

But the event — an annual rite of the Shiite underclass loyal to Mr. Sadr — took on more political importance this year because it came amid the debate here and in Washington about whether American troops will leave on schedule by the end of the year or stay on in some capacity. The departure date was set by a security agreement that binds both countries.

“We want them to get out of the country,” said Sheik Ahmed al-Hasnawi, one of the event’s organizers. “It’s the last year for them.”

Ali Husain, a high school student, said: “We came from southern Iraq yesterday evening at the invitation of Moktada al-Sadr. We will expel the occupier.”

This is, of course, consistent with al Sadr’s own rhetoric. When he returned to Iraq in January from a four year self-imposed exile in Iran, Sadr called on Iraqis to resist the American “occupiers.” Additionally, the largely Shiite south has resisted American intervention for many years now, and was the site of some of the worst sectarian violence in the years after the downfall of Saddam Hussein. More important for the future, though, is the fact that Sadr and Malakai are the central players in the Iraqi coalition government. Given Sadr’s position, and Malakai’s statements about the SOFA even before Sadr returned to Iraq, it seems highly unlikely that the Iraqi government is going to ask the United States to extend its occupation.

Nonetheless, one has to ask why Gates would bring this up now. We’re eight months away from the final months of U.S. presence in Iraq, we’re engaged in wars in Afghanistan and Libya, we’re utilizing military assets to assist Japan in recovering from a devastating natural disaster, and we’re dealing with a fiscal crisis at home. What purpose, exactly, is served by keeping troops in Iraq, where the government is either going to succeed or the country is going to sink into civil war? None that I can see.

We’re on track to remove the last American troops from Iraq by December 31, 2011. Rather than trying to extend the mission, we should do what we can to hasten its end.

 

FILED UNDER: Iraq War, Middle East, Military Affairs, US Politics, World Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. DC Loser says:

    Face the facts: We invaded Iraq, removed Saddam Hussein, and left a power vacuum which has been filled by Iranian surrogates in the form of Maliki and Al-Sadr. In other words, we have done the heavy lifting for Iran in positioning them as the major force in Iraqi politics. Full Stop. Now people are starting to wonder why they want us out? I’m incredulous.

  2. matt says:

    DC : Well Saddam was our buddy and acted as a check on Iran for decades sooooo..

  3. Southern Hoosier says:

    Even the most benign invader is still a invader and we are far from being benign. Ask yourselves, how long did Communism last in Eastern Europe when the Soviet army pulled out? How long will “democracy” last when we pullout of Iraq?

  4. Boyd says:

    Nonetheless, one has to ask why Gates would bring this up now.

    Because, A) if the Iraqi government asks us to stay beyond our current exit date by extending the SOFA, we be hard-pressed to decline (that’s just reality, although I know few people like the idea), and B) if we’re not going to leave in December, it’d be nice to have a heads-up for planning purposes.

    Moqtada Al-Sadr is not the Iraqi government, nor are his followers. Not that I’m advocating for the Iraqi government to just ignore them, but they’re not the ones who get to decide our exit date.

    So in the end, Secretary Gates is just saying, “Hey, guys, make the hard decision now, so we can make the appropriate plans.” Politicians, who inherently hate making decisions, will avoid making one for as long as possible, so he’s putting his own pressure on them in the opposite direction from their nature.

  5. michael reynolds says:

    How long did democracy last in Germany, Austria, Italy and Japan after we stopped our occupations? Oh, that’s right: they’re still democratic.

    The essential concept of our occupation in Iraq was wrong-headed. Nation-build or don’t nation-build, but don’t do some half-assed, on-the-cheap compromise. Setting aside for a moment the wisdom of invading at all, the Rumsfeld-Bush bargain-basement, no new taxes approach was a mess from day one.

    We didn’t just create a power vacuum by ousting Saddam, we created it was well by sending a relative handful of men to do a job that demanded many more, and then turning the rebuilding over to private contractors who did nothing but enrich Halliburton.

    This is why you don’t ask anti-government ideologues to set up a government. Oddly enough Iraq did not need tax cuts and an end to regulation, the only two GOP answers to everything.

  6. DC Loser says:

    @Boyd – where did you get this Strawman argument that the Iraqis are going to ask us to stay?

    http://www.rferl.org/content/iraqi_deputy_says_us_wants_continued_troop_presence/3550881.html

    BAGHDAD — An Iraqi parliament deputy says U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates is in Baghdad seeking a deal to allow thousands of U.S. troops to stay in Iraq after the withdrawal deadline, RFE/RL’s Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reports.

    Saad Muttalibi, a leading member of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s State of Law faction, told RFI on April 7 the U.S. wants to keep 10,000-20,000 troops beyond 2011 and Gates’ visit is an effort to exert pressure on the Iraqi government on this issue.

    Muttalibi said the Iraqi government has no intention of agreeing to the extension and that is why Iraq included a provision in the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) it has with the United States that ensures SOFA cannot be prolonged.

    He added that while U.S. officials are talking to Iraqi government officials about the extension, it is the legislative branch that has the final word on the issue.

    Muttalibi said that any proposed extension to the existing agreement or negotiating a new one is subject to approval by parliament. But he said the current alignment of parties in the legislature is unlikely to approve such a deal being made.

  7. Boyd says:

    @Loser: Let me know when you stop putting words in my mouth (what we call “lying” ’round these parts) so we can have an actual discussion.

  8. DC Loser says:

    @Boyd: Your own words:

    Because, A) if the Iraqi government asks us to stay beyond our current exit date by extending the SOFA, we be hard-pressed to decline (that’s just reality, although I know few people like the idea), and B) if we’re not going to leave in December, it’d be nice to have a heads-up for planning purposes.

    What part of that hasn’t already been made clear by the Iraqis?

  9. Boyd says:

    Is this one of those things that you “just know,” DCL? Kinda like you “just know” that there’s a “provision in the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) it has with the United States that ensures SOFA cannot be prolonged,” even though said provision doesn’t actually exist?

    So on top of claiming I said things I didn’t actually say, you quote an Iraqi politician who is quite clearly lying, which can be easily proved by reading the SOFA.

  10. Boyd says:

    To clarify, I mean you “just know” that the Iraqi government will absolutely not ask the US government to keep any troops in Iraq past December 31, 2011. That point was patently obvious while the voices in my head were discussing it, but it didn’t make it all the way to my fingers while I was typing my previous comment.

  11. steve says:

    Agree with Boyd. If they ask us to stay it will be difficult to refuse. If we are going to stay it is better to know sooner. I think the real pressure here is on Maliki. He might like to have us stay but if he asks it makes him look weak.

    Steve

  12. DC Loser says:

    Boyd,

    Just between us girls, let’s see what happens on Dec 31, 2011, and if we’re still flying our flag over Balad, and other bases. It takes two to tango. It doesn’t matter if we want to stay. It Iraqi govt has to agree. Mattalibi is a pretty senior guy in Maliki’s government. As well as Al Sadr, who controls a major faction of the coalition. Well, pigs may fly, so who knows if Maliki can be bribed to convince Mattalibi and Al Sadr to let us stay. We’ll see. Or we can convince the Kurds to let us stay on their territory perhaps? That’s a big IF and has dire consequences for Iraqi democracy.

    Last week’s attack by Iraqi forces against the Anti-Iranian MEK Ashraf base is an indication of where this is all headed.

  13. Boyd says:

    @DCL: In your apparent never-ending drive for one-upsmanship, you seem to keep missing that I never predicted that the Iraqi government would ask us to stay. My point was, if they ask us to stay, we will stay. That’s my only prediction, mmkay?

    And then building on that, everyone involved would prefer to know sooner rather than later, and that’s the impetus behind Gates’ question, not some unfounded wild-eyed desire to stay in Iraq no matter what, which so many people here apparently want to attribute to him. Don’t forget: Gates won’t be SecDef on Dec 30, 2012.

  14. DC Loser says:

    I don’t know Boyd. You sure get excited about stuff like this. Don’t take it personal. It’s not one-upsmanship to point out the facts on the ground. Sure, they MAY ask us to stay. I MAY hit the lotto jackpot tomorrow. But I don’t go around planning on that eventuality. That people in the Iraqi political leadership tell us they don’t want us to stay I would say is a pretty good indicator of what the likely answer is. People in the Pentagon and Langley get paid big bucks for understanding things like that and let policymakers understand where things stand.

  15. Boyd says:

    You just don’t get it, DCL. Making up your debating opponent’s position seems to be a popular tactic around here, since it makes it a lot easier to win an argument when you get to say what the debate is, and what you’re opponent’s position is.

    Excited? Far from it. I just don’t have the stomach for the deceit you seem to revel in.

  16. DC Loser says:

    Boyd – I’m no much for your emotional diatribes when you get caught on a strawman argument. But don’t take it from me. Pat Lange addressed this fantasy directly a few days ago:

    http://turcopolier.typepad.com/sic_semper_tyrannis/2011/04/maliki-and-obama.html

    When I read this thing that Porter was nice enough to send me, I was so impressed with my own naivete that I called up my friend “basilisk” to ask if he had known that Obama and company actually believed that the Iraqi Shia government was going to ask for a more or less permanent US garrison in Iraq. When he got through laughing at my supposed joke, he said “no, I never.” Of course not, he is a rational, well informed human. Who the hell are these people who convince themselves and each other that fantasies like this are real possibilities. After all that has happened, these buffoons think that Maliki’s Iraq, or some other Shia pietist’s Iraq is going to be a “faithful friend” of the US? Mon dieu! Astaghfur b’illah!

    Maliki’s government feels threatened by Saudi money and its support for Sunni Arab resistance? (Irony alert) Why would they think that?

    They may not want to have us around? Dommage! pl

  17. Southern Hoosier says:

    michael reynolds says: Sunday, April 10, 2011 at 12:39

    How long did democracy last in Germany, Austria, Italy and Japan after we stopped our occupations? Oh, that’s right: they’re still democratic.

    Germany, Austria, and Italy were all democracies before the war. Hitler was elected. Mussolini was elected. Japan is a different story. I don’t believe would have allowed Japan to return to its pre-WW II government. Also we still have troops in Japan, Italy and German, so we haven’t left yet.

  18. Southern Hoosier says:

    michael reynolds says: Sunday, April 10, 2011 at 12:39

    We didn’t just create a power vacuum by ousting Saddam, we created it was well by sending a relative handful of men to do a job that demanded many more, and then turning the rebuilding over to private contractors who did nothing but enrich Halliburton.

    We didn’t help matters much by disbanding the military and them trying to rebuild it from scratch.

  19. Michael Reynolds says:

    Sweet Jesus. Democracies. Yeah. Listen dude history is long. You have to read a bit further before you start implying that any of those countries had some kind of democratic history. Read back at least to WW1.

  20. FliT says:

    Doug,

    I generally like a lot of your posts, but this one is just, forgive me for blunt language, facile with some ignorant points. To address just three things:

    1.

    Additionally, the largely Shiite south has resisted American intervention for many years now, and was the site of some of the worst sectarian violence in the years after the downfall of Saddam Hussein

    The “largely Shiite south” was NOT, by definition, the site of some of “the worst sectarian violence.” Most of the fighting was a power struggle between the Badr militia, the Mahdi militia and Iraqi government forces in the south. (all predominantly or exclusively Shia)

    2. Though he had a recent moment of glory as kingmaker, you overstate Sadr’s importance and especially(!) popularity in the Iraqi political landscape, and cite a protest organized by his followers as some sort of exhibit in your case that America should not remain in Iraq. This, for lack of a better word, is you being “played” by some Sadrist protestors, instead of analyzing and appropriately weighing real factors.

    3.

    Of course the “we’ve got a lot going on around the world” thing is arguably a reason that we shouldn’t be volunteering to keep up 50,000 troops in Iraq for no seemingly good reason,

    Where to begin with this statement? Let’s see … continuing to stabilize the fragile development of a democratic process? Checking Iranian influence? Getting the security forces to a point where they can successfully maintain internal security and defend themselves from regional threats? Continued counterterrorism ops against Al Qaeda in Iraq? Not pissing away billions of dollars and US lives already in a strategically vital country?

    Not even many of those who are very critical of US involvement in Iraq (ie Tom Ricks) advocate simply pulling out like there is nothing at stake (“for seemingly no good reason”). I suggest you start reading some of Anthony Cordesman’s assessments at CSIS on America’s interest in seeing Iraq through to completion.

  21. FliT says:

    Regarding DC Loser’s comments above:

    1. While conceding the possibility the Iraqis may indeed not ask us to stay: relying on statements by Iraqi politicians on this issue is not definitive in any way shape or form. They talk a lot of shit, and they have to, to maintain nationalist credibility. This does not necessarily mean they will follow through when it comes to removing the training wheels.

    2. US military ties to Iraq’s military, in everything from training, to continued logistical, intelligence and technological support, to a series of long term contracts for major weapons systems (M16s, aircraft and tanks, to name three) signal something different than abbreviated US involvement in Iraq. This does not preclude major withdrawal, but it does preclude total withdrawal.

  22. Southern Hoosier says:

    Michael Reynolds says: Sunday, April 10, 2011 at 18:42
    Sweet Jesus. Democracies. Yeah. Listen dude history is long. You have to read a bit further before you start implying that any of those countries had some kind of democratic history. Read back at least to WW1.

    Doesn’t matter what they had prior to WW I. The fact remains they had home grown democracies before WW II. It wasn’t like we were trying to impose some alien ideas on them.

  23. DC Loser says:

    The Weimar Republic was a strange democracy. As Richard Evans describes in “The Coming of the Third Reich,” most of those elected to lead it were hostile to democracy and actively trying to undermine its constitution and bring about a return of the Hohenzollern monarchy.