US Troops to Be Out of Iraq by End of the Year

“After nearly nine years, America’s war in Iraq will be over.” With those words, President Obama has ended our military commitment to Iraq.

Troops remaining in the country will be withdrawn by the end of the year. Obama and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki could not come to an agreement to keep a few thousand troops in Iraq beyond December 31.

The Washington Post:

The failure to reach an agreement could pose security problems for the Iraqi government, still largely divided by sect and ethnicity, and for an Obama administration that inherited the war but has pledged an orderly withdrawal.

If sectarian strife or other violence should break out in Iraq once U.S. forces have left, Obama could be blamed, particularly by his conservative critics, for abandoning Iraq after nearly nine years of war before it was ready to protect itself.

But the result also allows for a more definitive conclusion to the divisive U.S. military operation in Iraq, which has cost nearly $1 trillion and more than 4,400 American lives. Obama, who separated himself from the crowded Democratic field in 2008 in part through his clear opposition to the Iraq war, will now be able to tell voters as he confronts a difficult re-election campaign that he has overseen the promised end to the Iraq conflict.

The plan conforms with the agreement negotiated by the George W. Bush administration to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq at the end of 2011. But negotiations have been taking place for months between Obama administration officials and Maliki’s government over how many U.S. troops should stay to continue training the nascent Iraqi national forces and monitor potential flashpoints, such as the boundary line between the Kurdish north and the rest of Iraq.

In the end, Malki couldn't convince some powerful members of his coalition, including firebrand Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who promised to attack American troops if they stayed past the deadline.

The final straw appeared to be a refusal by the Iraqis to grant immunity to US troops after the first of the year. The administration was not going to allow American soldiers to be held hostage by the capricious whims of a government that is so divided; the chances of using our troops for political gain was too great.

Terrorism is expected to rise in the lead up to our departure, as is sectarian conflict. But there is little more we can do to stabilize the country beyond the efforts we've already made.