x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Obama: troop departure from Iraq 'a victory for US'

Obama and Maliki express pride in the withdrawal of America's military in December.

WASHINGTON // As the US military presence in Iraq enters its final two months, Barack Obama, the US president, yesterday said the withdrawal is a victory for his administration and the fulfilment of a promise to end the war.

Nouri Al Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, also declared success.

He said on Friday the decision not to extend the US military presence came about because Iraq refused to allow the US to stay on its own terms. The US had proposed to keep thousands of troops in Iraq but wanted them immune from prosecution, a condition the Iraqi government would not accede to.

In Mr Obama's weekly radio address yesterday, he said he was proud to have announced that the remaining 41,000 US troops would be home for Christmas.

He added that the withdrawal was evidence that "we've succeeded in our strategy to end the war".

He also said the withdrawal and the killing of Muammar Qaddafi in Libya were "powerful reminders of how we've renewed American leadership in the world". Mr Obama was always an opponent of the Iraq war, a position that set him apart from the Democratic field in 2008.

But his policy on Iraq and Afghanistan has been cautious and it had been assumed that the US would strike a deal with Iraq to keep some troops in the country beyond 2011 to support Iraqi forces.

Sectarian tensions still run high and security is weak. The withdrawal is likely to usher in even greater violence.

This month, 221 civilians were killed, according to Iraq Body Count, a website that tracks confirmed civilian casualties.

Observers suggest the inability to reach an agreement amounted to a failure of both the US administration and the Iraqi government.

Both have an interest in seeing a stable Iraq - the US to proclaim its invasion and eight-year occupation a success, and the Iraqi government to ensure domestic order and to deter regional meddling.

But such an outcome was far from assured, said Charles Dunne, of the Middle East Institute, a Washington-based think tank, and both Iraq and the US should have approached the issue of extending a troop presence with more urgency.

Mr Dunne said this was not necessarily the "final word" on the issue and that it might suit both parties better politically to announce a withdrawal, thus abiding by the 2007 agreement, and still not close the door on security cooperation.

 

okarmi@thenational.ae

Editorial, page a15