This is the Way the Iraq War Ends, with Bangs and Whimpers

The Associated Press is reporting that its sources in the Obama administration are admitting that all US troops will have to leave Iraq by 31 December, in accordance with the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) negotiated between George W. Bush and the Iraqi parliament.

The US embassy in Baghdad announced the US Air Force has now handed responsibility for Iraq’s air space over to the Iraqis.

Bush was forced into that SOFA because US troops could not fight in Iraq without a legal cover if they were to avoid possible war crimes prosecutions and lawsuits. From June 2003 until fall of 2008, the United Nations Security Council resolutions recognized the US as the occupying power with the responsibility to provide security to the population (a duty that might necessitate the deployment of military force). But the Iraqi government did not want, by 2008, to go to the UNSC for yet another such resolution, because it was eager to begin escaping its subordination to the UN. In the absence of a UNSC resolution, US troops needed a bilateral treaty to legalize their activities in Iraq.

Thus, Bush had to sign what the parliament gave him or face the prospect that US troops would have to leave by 31 December, 2008, something that would have been interpreted as a defeat. The price the Iraqi parliament extracted for allowing the US troops to remain was an iron-clad guarantee that they would all be out by the end of 2011. Bush and his generals clearly expected, however, that over time Washington would be able to wriggle out of the treaty and would find a way to keep a division or so in Iraq past that deadline.

Last spring Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki began insisting that the SOFA was unalterable. He admitted that a new SOFA could be negotiated that would allow US troops to be brought back in 2012, but they would have to leave by the end of 2011 as the treaty specified. Moreover, he insisted that any new SOFA would have to be approved by parliament. I thought to myself at that time that the whole game was over with, since the Iraqi parliament was never going to vote publicly to bring thousands of US troops back into the country. It would be seen as a surrender to neo-imperialism. Moreover, it might well be that a majority of the parliamentarians even privately wanted the foreign soldiers out of their country. The Sadr Bloc of Muqtada al-Sadr, with 40 seats, certainly wanted the US gone, and they threatened to revive their paramilitary and attack any US troops who tried to stay. Al-Maliki does not have a majority in parliament without the Sadrists, so they were always likely to get their way.

The AP reports that the sticking point for the Iraqi cabinet was that the US side wanted any US troop contingent in Iraq to have immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts. This provision is called “extraterritoriality,” and it had been granted by the Shah in Iran to US troops in bases in that country. Extraterritoriality was an issue on which Ayatollah Khomeini campaigned against the Shah’s government in the demonstrations of 1963, which caused the ayatollah to be exiled from the country. The Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and the Sadr Movement are enough in the Khomeinist tradition that they would object to this provision. Even the more lay Shiite fundamentalist Da’wa Party, which al-Maliki heads, would find that a hard pill to swallow, given that they are Iraqi nationalists as well as Shiite fundamentalists.

Washington hawks had wanted to keep 25,000 US troops in Iraq indefinitely. The Obama administration had decided by this September that that goal was unrealistic, and decided to seek a small contingent of 3,000 or so. But there would be no point in having them in Iraq if they could not fight when necessary, and for that activity they would have needed a new SOFA or a legislated extraterritoriality. They got neither, and so the US has to go.

It turns out that the day on which the US military lost Iraq once and for all was September 16, 2007, when Blackwater private security guards, all decorated ex-military, opened fire in Nisoor Square under the mistaken impression that they were under attack by the ordinary civilian motorists there. 17 were killed, dozens wounded, and the incident became a cause celebre for Iraqis eager to see an end to a foreign military presence in their country. That the US courts declined to punish the perpetrators of the massacre was a nail in the coffin for extraterritoriality. The Iraqis wouldn’t grant it after all that.

The US will leave behind a failed state. A determined guerrilla insurgency based in the Sunni Arab community (though not necessarily widely supported by the latter) continues to hit Baghdad, as it did on Wednesday in a series of attacks that targeted police and killed 25.

Even though Iraq has a severe shortfall in electricity, its previous minister of electricity did nothing to ensure the building of new power plants, and he goes out of office with charges of embezzlement flying about his head. His successor is commissioning two new power plants that are scheduled to be completed in two years. One will be built by Hyundai, the other by Greece’s Metka. That new power plants are still only in the blueprint stage 6 years after Iraq elected an independent parliament is a testimony to the country’s political gridlock and extreme corruption. Iraq should be making a lot of money from its petroleum, but you can’t see where it is benefiting the people.

There are severe tensions between the Kurds in the north and the Arab government in Baghdad. The inhabitants of Khaniqin in the province of Diyala, who are mostly Kurds, are defying PM Nouri al-Maliki by painting Kurdistan flags on their houses.

The US keeps fretting over Iranian influence in Iraq, but that is silly. If you didn’t want Iranian Shiite influence in Iraq you shouldn’t have overthrown the Sunni Saddam Hussein and seated the Shiite fundamentalists as a controlling interest in Parliament. Now that Washington has put the Iraqi Shiites in power, it should expect at least moments of great cooperation with Tehran.

And so that is the way the war ends. No great demonstrations in the US against it in its twilight. It is ending almost by default, because the Iraqi parliament can seldom get real legislation done, the US is forced to adhere to the 2008 SOFA. In the background, the bombs are still going off and the country is riven by ethnic disputes. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been killed. The US will receive no benefit from its illegal war of aggression, no permanent bases, no bulwark against Iran, no new Arab friend to Israel, no $14 a barrel petroleum– all thing things Washington had dreamed of. Dreams that turned out to be flimsy and unsubstantial and tragic.

36 Responses

    • But we will be able to leave the largest US Embassy in the world in Baghdad. That will be the extent of our footprint — thank God.

  1. For years I’ve heard statements out of the Pentagon “If we could get things in Iraq back to how they were under Hussein, we’d consider that success”… (Indicating that cruel as Hussein’s secular government was, the Theocracy installed and propped up by the U.S. invasioin and occupation is even worse).

    With the western oil companies – including Exxon Mobil, Shell, and BP, have their contracts and privatization control (instead of the previous situation of Iraq’s oil being nationalized), and Iraq no longer has control of the the levels or the limits of extractions and production (including as Professor Fouad Al-Ameer revealed);

    With the U.S. government having converted the trading of Iraq’s oil export transactions from the Euro to the U.S. dollar immediately after the 2003 invasion and occupation;

    With hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians being maimed or dead by the 2003 U.S. war on Iraq, plus the civil war the invasion triggered (with some evidence indicating at least part of that was deliberated caused), causing hundreds of thousands of more deaths;

    On top of the 500,000 plus Iraqi children dead from the George H. W. Bush/James “Dan” Quayle administration’s and then the Bill Clinton/Al Gore administration’s sanctions before that (and people in the U.S., like Bert Sacks in Seattle still fighting legal battles to this day, over being fined by the U.S. government for helping provide a small amount of medical supplies and bandages for Iraqi children);

    With 5 to 6 million Iraqi civilians driven out of their own country as refugees, according to U.N. reports;

    With at least 400,000 + U.S. military personnel suffering from severe Post Traumatic Stress, with another 350,000+ suffering from traumatic brain injuries (2008 figures from RAND – the numbers may be higher now), and thousands dead, and tens of thousands wounded, and U.S. military veterans now being 55% of the U.S. homeless population;

    With the grotesque Iraq war and occupation profiteering by Halliburton, K.B.R., CACI, Bechtel, Titan and others, and the additional war crimes by U.S. government-funded private mercenaries like Blackwater (aka Xe) and it’s official and unofficial subsidiaries;

    With the kidnapping and torture practices – including at the 7 U.S. military prisons in Iraq, that Major General Antonio Taguba investigated and verified of “torture, abuse, rape, and every indecency…”;

    With the war criminals from the U.S. government – including George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza “Condi” Rice, and Donald Rumsfeld – going around giving speeches for which they are paid millions of dollars, while both Obama and his administration and many of those in Congress (both parties) insist “we can’t look back into the past” *, and that no one from high levels who ordered high crimes will be held legally accountable;

    In conclusion, the “Blood For Oil” crap, and the massive U.S. corporate robbing of both Iraqi monies and U.S. tax monies, the war crimes, and the war and occupation profiteering, the not caring for the mis-used U.S. military personnel, etc., are all indeed a very large and real part of this sickening U.S. government’s war of choice.

    – Martin A. Totusek

    * 1) Ask any honest police officer how they solve crimes and often prevent them from being committed again (including by the same people), and the first thing they will tell you is “We look back into the past…”.

    2) How can a nation avoid having the same kinds of crimes happen again? Precisely by looking back at what has happened, and holding all and anyone involved, including heads of State, to at least some standards of legal accountability and penalties.

  2. If that idiot Sarah Palin wasn’t a bought and paid for neocon she might ask…”Neocons, how’s that PNAC and refashioning the middle east thing working for ya?”

  3. Is “Wimpers” irony? As in “Not a Whimper was heard as the Wimps sneaked away in the dead cold of night.” or a typo?

    At the end of September I added up Margaret Griffis violent death count – around 500 dead, didn’t add up the wounded – probably 1,000 to 1,500.

    Very little on this daily slaughter in the MSM. When I added up those numbers I wrote on Margarets blog “The deafening silence from the MSM is drowning the sounds of weeping all over Iraq”.

    The presence of US troops appears to be doing nothing to stop the dozen or more killings a day, so I imagine a lot of Iraqi’s will be glad to see the back of them. I suspect death count could rise after Dec 31, hope I’m wrong.

    Obama, acting against his will, but in accordance with his own promises and in conformity with an agreement signed by George W Bush – some more irony.

  4. Juan,

    I am puzzled by something: when Bahrain claims that its Shi’ite fundamentalist parties are allied to Iran, people such as yourself dismiss this out of hand. Yet, at the same time, you say that the U.S. should have always known that Iraq’s Shi’ite fundamentalist parties would be allied with Iran. How do you resolve this contradiction?


    • Shoot, the MSM, and America in general, have forgotten about our troops in Iraq, let alone the suffering of the Iraqis.

  5. Who, then, will guard the USA embassy, said to be the largest in the world? With no marines left, is it a case of “let them eat mahmoul”?

    • Marine Guards

      I had heard that US Marines don’t guard our embassies anymore – the State Department uses hired (overpriced) mercenaries instead. Does anyone have more information on this?

      • They use both. The Marines guard the physical location, while State Department security – some of it contractors, some of it State employees – provide security for the staff, including off-site.

        Think of the difference between the Marines at the White House and the Secret Service.

    • Don’t worry it’s only the military people who are leaving.

      ObamaDontCare is increasing the presence of State with plenty of Blackwater-like replacements – and thousands of brown paper envelopes stuffed with your 100 fiat dollar bills.

      The 150 Marines are there as decoration – chocolate soldiers to salute the great and the good of Iraq as they arrive to collect their brown paper envelopes.

      Meanwhile the daily slaughter will go on, and on, and …

      • I’Dear say the slaughter occured because of the presence of tens and tens of thousands of US troops, supported by tens of thousands of contractors and all of the acoutruments of modern American warfare. That said, I’d feel pretty lonely and at extreme risk, being left behind with 4999 other contractors. I don’t expect the slaughter to continue next year at the hands of the American War Machine if Prof Cole is correct.

  6. link to

    According to the above article (“US Denies Reports of Iraq Withdrawal Decision”), “The administration has already drawn up plans for an extensive expansion of the American Embassy and its operations, bolstered by thousands of paramilitary security contractors.”

    And “The State Department is expected to have up to 17,000 employees and at least 5,000 military contractors for this ongoing diplomatic presence, which has been described as necessary to provide ‘situational awareness around the country, manage political crises in potential hotspots such as Kirkuk, and provide a platform for delivering economic, development and security assistance’.”

    How do you suppose the Sadr contingent will view this presence of the American imperium in expanding an already enormous Embassy. And would this diplomatic mission also require a new SOFA for legal cover in case of war crimes for “this ongoing diplomatic presence”?

    • Joseph — I’m guessing your comment was in the moderation line when I asked the question below. Thanks for this!

  7. To what extent is the withdrawal of American troops a withdrawal in reality? You mention Blackwater; is there a viable case to be made that what is happening here is the total privatization of the occupation? Are there reliable figures about the number of “security contractors” who will be left in Iraq once the American forces leave, who they will be working for, and what kind of work they will be doing?

    • You can’t occupy a country the size of Iraq with 5000 security contractors.

      All you can do is provide security for a few secure locations. That number of personnel isn’t enough to have any noticeable influence over what happens in Iraq, or what the Iraqi government does.

      • No kiddin! I’d say those 5000, or 150, whether military or contractor, will be bottled up in the embassy for fear of their lives.

    • I think my post below might at least partially answer your question. I have been in conversion with a few DOS personnel at the American “Vatican” in Baghdad. They are laughable over staffed and have almost nothing constructive to do. (see link to ) My PSC friends are nothing like Blackwater’s out of control cowboys, they are professional and go out of their way to be culturally sensitive and maintain good relations with the local Iraqis. Yet even they say the Iraqis are probable not going to tolerate white faces with guns driving pavement crushing armored convoys on Iraqi streets and highways after the first of the year. What ever the State Department may be planing, the Iraqis may have other ideas.

      • Specifically Moqtada Al Sadr may have other ideas, who has said all Americans should be out of Iraq by the new year, and who commands a million member private army as well as a block of votes in the parliament. A couple of days back he recommended other countries come to Iraq to take up the training mission of Iraqi security. That idea has already been dismissed as impractical, since the weaponry involved is American, but it indicates his seriousness on Americans out, not staying. And there’s still the question of a SOFA in case the American forces have a Raymond Davis amongst them.

        • Actually there is a very good compromise available. The U.S. will not be selling Iraq any military equipment that NATO member Turkey has not been deploying for years. The Turks, as the big economic winner of the Iraq war, already have a big commercial presence in Iraq and can provide any necessary training.

        • Cleric Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr also only has the level of power and influence he has at this point, because of the 2003 U.S. invasion/occupation of Iraq – which was not justified. As Robert “Bob” Baer put it in 2003:

          “The current Iraq war/occupation is based on lies… When you invade a nation without cause, that’s not a ‘war on terrorism’…, that’s colonialism, that’s imperialism… Look, while you guys were doing the Nasdaqs and the dot-coms, I was over in Iraq trying to get rid of Saddam Hussein… For that, I almost got killed… besides, I almost went to jail… So it didn’t take a whole lot of courage for me to come out against this Iraq war, which I did right from the beginning, and I was studiously ignored…”. – Robert “Bob” Baer (C.I.A. “black-ops”; officially: field officer in the C.I.A. Directorate of Operations), who was previously stationed in the 1990s in the middle-east trying to capture Hussein as an individual, with the intention of having him tried in international court…). Note: Bob Baer even went public trying to stop the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, which was reported, including on BBC (see the December 28, 2002 report at: link to

          Sayyid Muqtada al-Sadr is not Nouri al-Maliki of Iraq – who runs a prison in Iraq where people are abused and tortured even worse than under Hussein in many instances (as Human Rights Watch and other human rights groups have been documenting and reporting on), and whose party lost the last limited election (confirmed by international observers), but has remained in power propped up by the U.S. occupation.

          On top of everything else, the Theocracy put in power by the 2003 U.S. invasion/occupation, put in place a Constitution, that under Article number 41, has canceled the rights which Iraqi women had since 1958, including under what was known as the “personal status law”, under the previous secular Constitution.

          Iraqi security? It’s the same kind of crap as going all the way back to the 1955 – 1975 U.S. war on Vietnam, where the excuse of “Vietnam security” lead to what?

          Remember that the vast majority of identifiable Iraqi victims of U.S. bombings (from planes, helicopters, and automated drone bombers) during and since the 2003 invasion, have been Iraqi women and children – this includes recent bombings, like the Pentagon was forced via legal actions here in the U.S. to admit about this past summer, i.e. that they are still bombing Iraq (a far cry from what I remember from the also not justified Vietnam War, but when at least the U.S. government openly gave the figures of the tonnage of bombs dropped each week, on Vietnam, Laos and/or Cambodia – which I would see listed on the evening news broadcasts each Friday).

          Of course, there are more like Raymond Allen Davis-types in the military and C.I.A. and among the U.S. government-funded mercenaries (who are not being withdrawn, according to many reports), and remember it was the U.S. government that ordered the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq, and that ordered that none of the Geneva Conventions were to be followed, so there was and is as bad or worse than Raymond Allen Davis at the very top of the Pentagon, C.I.A., State Department, and White House staff – With zero accountability and atrocities ordered from the top as policy currently and in the past, it’s no surprise what has happened.

          Our U.S. government’s sad and tragic policies in the middle-east for decades have been failed policies, that the policy makers mostly refuse to look at, and they continue the same or similar policies, and they mostly don’t give a darn about the harm their policies cause.

          To give just one of many examples regarding Iraq:

          Imagine if Saddam Hussein the Iraqi history student, had not been recruited by the U.S. government, trained by the C.I.A., and then sent as part of a C.I.A. sponsored 6-man squad to assassinate Abd al-Karim Qasim in 1959 (while they killed his driver, they only wounded Qasim on that occasion, who escaped being murdered that particular time) – which a number of C.I.A. personnel from that era have gone public about in the past decade? Our government is still going around recruiting, training and arming people to do such things, on top of everything else – which Seymour “Sy” Hersh and others have been documenting and reporting on for years.

          The historical lessons, and even famous historical warning about not doing such things – some of which date all the way back to George Washington, are deliberately ignored by the U.S. government (both parties), including the White House, Congress, the Pentagon brass, the C.I.A., etc.

  8. The US will leave behind a failed state.

    Too far! The existence of terrorists isn’t enough to make a country into a failed state. Certainly, nobody is going to cite the current Iraq government as a model of good governance, but the difference between Iraq in 2011 and Afghanistan in 1993 is pretty significant. I can’t also help but notice two things:

    1) Iraq has never, ever been a failed state, in which the central government was unable to enforce its will throughout the country, in its entire history, except when some foreign military (Hi, mom!) was deliberately causing that outcome. Quite the opposite, Iraq has always been a very strong state, in which the central government has been able to push the population around however and whenever it wanted.

    2) The U.S. isn’t out yet. Our withdrawal over the past three years has consistently been accompanied by political and security progress, as the provocative foreign military presence has diminished, and the government and political process became increasingly legitimate in the eyes of Iraqis. I suspect this is likely to continue as our withdrawal is completed.

    “The US will receive no benefit from its illegal war of aggression, no permanent bases…” Even moreso, we gave up the bases we did have in Saudi Arabia, based on the assumption that we’d relocate our military presence to Iraq. Not only did we gain nothing strategically from this war, but we are actually left in a weaker military position as a consequence of it.

  9. Looks like we may have Eric Prince and Judge Ricardo Urbina to thank for getting the military completely out of Iraq once and for all. I bet they also put the kibosh on most of the DOS plans for future operations in Iraq. I have a friend who is currently doing DOS personal security details in Basra and the GOI has got them on a very very tight leash.

  10. Off topic but within genre. McClatchy headline (typical of all MSM headlines on story):“Obama sends troops to Africa to track Lord’s Resistance Army leader”

    Read more: link to

    I should be surprised at the total “ho-hum” response to this event. But of course the “don’t look back” creed puts the matter in perspective. This adventure into Africa comes as a clean sheet. Why on earth would one suspect that the insertion of 100 US troops into a decades-long violent quagmire, could be anything but sufficient and successful. Maybe all hundred are in drone crews, which, if one doesn’t look back, is a virtual guarantee of success.

    But my pessimism is so politically incorrect, being tainted as it is by looking back (even if only to today’s superb Cole blog).

    • Why are they there

      1. ObamaDontCare’s Ugandan Adventure is connected to neighbouring Kenya sending troops to Somalia in pursuit of al-Shabaab militants link to

      Can’t figure out why though – drone launchers are usually CIA, contractors or special forces, operating undercover.

      2. Might be a warning to Omar Al-Bashir in Khartoum – “you better not mess with Southern Sudan”

      3. Doubt its anything to do with the LRA – who’ve moved to the Demo Rep Congo anyway – unless its to make sure they stay there.

      4. Uganda has agreed to allow the long longed for relocation of United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) to relocate from Stuttgart in Germany to somewhere in Uganda, these guys are there to select some suitable real estate.

      My money’s on 4, which would enable 1, 2 & 3.

  11. Shades of Vietnam. Two major failures of using the U.S. Military to fight wars that benefited nobody but the Military/Industrial/Financial cabal’s in this country, at the expense of every taxpayer, as well as those that fought in combat. One has to ask why the Military embraced the corruption & greed that has swept the political ranks? Perhaps it’s their way of thinking that they better get theirs while they can?

  12. When you get off the topic of the Middle East, you are particularly interesting. Perhaps this is because the topics are so general.
    I was glad that Columbus, himself, had so little to do with the cooling of the climate as well as that of exterminating so many local inhabitants.
    It is sad that he was such a failure in getting where he wanted to go. This is like Martin Luther being a failure in healing the Catholic Church.

  13. […] Juan Cole on the spluttering end to the (kind of/sort of) formal US involvement (though private contractors are only increasing): The US keeps fretting over Iranian influence in Iraq, but that is silly. If you didn’t want Iranian Shiite influence in Iraq you shouldn’t have overthrown the Sunni Saddam Hussein and seated the Shiite fundamentalists as a controlling interest in Parliament. Now that Washington has put the Iraqi Shiites in power, it should expect at least moments of great cooperation with Tehran. […]

  14. Juan:

    Bang, whimper, whatever.

    By 2007/2008, the only viable mission was departure—on both sides.

    Getting that to happen via SOFA was a great accomplishment.

    I, for one, will celebrate on December 31, 2011 when so many US soldiers are not on the ground in Iraq. I suspect that Iraqis, too, will feel the same.

  15. Objectively, the United States has since its founding a history of spectacular overall military failures. When one really looks at US history there are not any examples where it single handedly took on a power greater than itself and defeated it through conquest. This is a statement that sounds shocking but it is accurate if genuinely examined. This is in direct contrast to the endless WWII “greatest generation” triumphalism that has been vogue for a very long time to justify post WWII imperialism. This distortion of the truth has led the US to act very foolishly at times.

    Ultimately the Iraq war is another failure of an incompetant empire. If you are going to be an empire then get good at it or get the hell out of that business and focus on being a republic. Frankly the US is clearly looking like its “exceptionalism” luck is running out and its poorly thoughout and executed empirical ambitions are running it into the ground.

    This of course completely ignores any moral component of the US behavior.

  16. ——When one really looks at US history there are not any examples where it single handedly took on a power greater than itself and defeated it through conquest—–

    if you structure your sentence so that the conditions described comprise a null set of events….(the US and never warred alone against a greater power and sought a “defeat through conquest”)

    it’s not all that surprising that it hasn’t happened.

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