In November 2008, the United States and Iraq signed a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) which sets the legal parameters for American military operations in the country. This agreement specifies that on June 30, 2009, all U.S. combat forces must withdraw from Iraqi cities, villages, and localities—the first in a two-step process of removing forces from Iraq. All U.S. troops must then withdraw from Iraqi territory by December 31, 2011.
Pursuant to this agreement, Iraq has the right to request the withdrawal of American troops before the deadline, and the U.S. also maintains the right to withdraw its troops at any time. For U.S. troops to remain in Iraq past the 2011 deadline for complete withdrawal (perhaps for purposes such as training or support), the SOFA would need to be extended or modified.
The On-Time Withdrawal: In April 2009, the Pentagon said that American troops might remain in certain violence-plagued cities after the June 30th withdrawal deadline. Tremendous security gains made by U.S. and Iraqi forces since the troop “surge” of 2007 have now enabled American troops to pull out of the cities. The Pentagon announced yesterday that this troop withdrawal was completed ahead of schedule. Ambassador Christopher Hill recently noted that combat troops had already withdrawn from many cities—save areas such as Mosul and Baghdad. Since October 2008, the United States has closed or returned to Iraqi authority 150 bases and facilities. As expected, the withdrawal from populated areas was met with a slight uptick in violence and four U.S. soldiers were killed yesterday.
The Obama Administration has decided to end combat operations in Iraq by August 31, 2010. However, under President Obama’s plan, about 50,000 American soldiers will remain under a modified mission until the end of 2011. Some of the troops currently serving in Iraq will move to Afghanistan, where 57,000 American troops are now serving.
Security Situation: The Pentagon is satisfied with the overall security situation in Iraq, although outstanding security issues remain—including Arab-Kurd tensions in the north, remaining al-Qaeda elements in Mosul, and Iranian interference through the use of surrogates. Other major national challenges for Iraq are looming parliamentary elections, most likely to be held in January 2010, as well as government budget constraints. Additionally, as General Ray Odierno noted earlier today, "There are still people who do not want the government of Iraq to succeed." Moving forward, some Members may believe it is critical that future troop withdrawals remain dependent upon conditions on the ground. Such flexibility will be crucial in order for American and Iraqi forces to maintain recent security gains.
According to military historian and a surge architect Kimberly Kagan:
Amazing events are occurring in Iraq. For the first time since the start of the war, American forces are withdrawing from Iraq’s cities, reducing their numbers and turning responsibility for security over to Iraqi forces. It is not the first time the United States has tried to hand off security to the Iraqis. At the end of 2006, as violence was exploding throughout Iraq, American forces were actually handing over bases in Baghdad and preparing to withdraw…The situation deteriorated so badly that the United States had to fight its way back into Baghdad in 2007 during the “surge”…Today, despite occasional flare-ups of violence, the situation is completely different…In 2006, it seemed as though increasing violence was driving America out of Iraq. The key difference between 2009 and 2006 is that Americans are leaving now because conditions permit, as Odierno often remarks. The mistake in 2006 lay in adhering to a timetable for withdrawal disconnected from reality.
Where Will Troops Be After June 30? Between the removal of troops from population centers and the scheduled complete withdrawal in 2011, U.S. forces will be stationed in areas and facilities specified by the Joint Military Operations Coordination Committee (JMOCC). The JMOCC was created to coordinate military operations between the United States and Iraq in the SOFA, and is composed of representatives from both countries. The only U.S. forces remaining in Iraqi cities will be advisors, trainers, and support staff that are embedded with Iraqi units. The greater U.S. presence in Iraq will remain large enough to respond to any incident with which the Iraqis may request assistance, according to the Pentagon. The U.S. military will continue combat operations in rural areas and near the border, but only with the Iraqi government's permission. Over 130,000 American soldiers continue to be stationed in Iraq.
No Ban on MRAPs: On June 26, 2009, the Washington Post reported that after the June 30, 2009, deadline for U.S. combat forces to withdraw from Iraqi cities, MRAPs (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles) would be banned from operating in the cities during daylight hours. The Pentagon has since clarified that such a ban has never existed nor will be issued. MRAPs are armored fighting vehicles specifically designed to survive IED attacks and ambushes. MRAPs provide troops with more protection than smaller, less-armored vehicles such as Humvees, for example.
For more information or questions, please contact Adam Hepburn at 6-2302.