US mulls 2011 troop pullout from Iraq
They're underpaid, overworked and over there: US troops in Iraq. But not for much longer, if the contours of the plan that is emerging are anything to go by.
Moves are afoot for a withdrawal in 2011. The matter is becoming urgent as the United Nations five-year mandate for the US-led coalition in Iraq expires at the end of 2008.
Developments in Iraq
Before the US begins withdrawing its troops from Iraq, Washington wants guarantees that it can retain some of its military presence in the country. The Pentagon announced on Thursday that there is a draft agreement between Iraqi and US negotiators, outlining the way to go after the Americans pull out. Details were not revealed, since many points are unresolved. Such as:
can the Iraqi government prosecute US troops that break the law if they commit any crimes while off-duty?
can the US guarantee they will really be departing by 2011?
if the remaining US forces take prisoners, how long can they hold them without charge?
should the Iraqi government receive prior warning in case of US operations in the country?
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is trying to garner support from parliament for the draft agreement. He is hoping for a two-thirds majority to make the deal less vulnerable to criticism.
US soldiers from Fort Huachuca
His task is not made any easier by a looming split between the two ruling Shi'ite parties in his government. His own Dawa Party is falling out with the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council party over the very draft agreement with the US. Apparently, the Supreme Council does not want its hands tied by commiting itself to the pact at this early stage.
US and Iraqi soldiers © Flickr by Army.mil
A US troop withdrawal will take place under the next American president. The candidates are aware that promises to bring the troops home are popular with the electorate. Barack Obama initially favoured a 2010 pullout, but has since taken into account the practicalities on the ground.
John McCain is refusing to set a deadline for withdrawal, saying that it would signal defeat. He wants to see a clear victory in Iraq first. The elections take place just before the UN mandate expires, and American voters will therefore have a say in when the troops leave Iraq.
Ironically, the troops themselves, while eligible to vote, are not likely to influence the outcome. The voting procedure for the US military abroad is cumbersome, carried out entirely via traditional snail mail, and riddled with bureaucracy. The federal Election Assistance Commission says that many in the military voted last time around, but only some 30 percent of the votes were actually tallied. So in the end, it's up to the folks back home.
US Air Force Photo Staff Sgt.Suzanne MDay / Flickr