President-elect Barack Obama, in one of the first policy statements of his transition, demanded that the Bush administration either submit the proposed U.S.-Iraq “status-of-forces agreement” to Congress or leave an opening for him to change it next year.
Obama’s transition office posted a statement on its Web site, declaring that any agreement on the future of U.S. troops in Iraq “should be negotiated in the context of a broader commitment by the U.S. to begin withdrawing its troops and forswearing permanent bases.”
The statement also insisted that the agreement authorizing the presence of U.S. troops on Iraqi soil beyond a United Nations mandate that expires Dec. 31 “must be subject to Congressional approval.”
Obama’s transition office noted the irony that the Iraqi government was submitting the agreement to its parliament while the Bush administration was set on approving the troop deal on its own authority.
“It is unacceptable that the Iraqi government will present the agreement to the Iraqi parliament for approval — yet the Bush administration will not do the same with the U.S. Congress,” the statement read. “The Bush administration must submit the agreement to Congress or allow the next administration to negotiate an agreement that has bipartisan support here at home and makes absolutely clear that the U.S. will not maintain permanent bases in Iraq.”
Iraqi political leaders are demanding revisions in the current draft of the “status of forces agreement” to firm up a Dec. 31, 2011, withdrawal date for U.S. troops. President George W. Bush wants a departure date that is flexible depending on conditions in Iraq.
During the campaign, Obama proposed a 16-month withdrawal timetable, which would have U.S. combat forces out by summer 2010.
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Obama’s election has had the unexpected effect in Iraq of relieving Iraqi doubts about the commitment of the United States to leave Iraq, according to a report in the New York Times.
The Times quoted Hadi al-Ameri, a leader of the Islamic Supreme Council, a major Shiite party as saying, “Before, the Iraqis were thinking that if they sign the pact, there will be no respect for the schedule of troop withdrawal by Dec. 31, 2011. …
“If Republicans were still there, there would be no respect for the timetable. This is a positive step to have the same theory about the timetable as Mr. Obama.” [NYT, Nov. 7, 2008]
When Obama launched his presidential campaign 22 months ago, his opposition to the Iraq War and his pledge to withdraw U.S. soldiers as President were cornerstones of his campaign.
Although the economic meltdown on Wall Street eclipsed much of the Iraq War debate during the last months of the presidential campaign, Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden used the launching of their new transition Web site to reiterate a determination to end the war.
At the Web site, www.change.gov, Obama said one of his first policy directives will be to give military commanders and the Secretary of Defense "a new mission in Iraq: ending the war."
More than 4,100 U.S. soldiers and, by some estimates, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been killed since Bush invaded Iraq in March 2003. Besides setting a timetable for withdrawing U.S. combat forces from Iraq, Obama still foresees a limited U.S. military presence.
"Under the Obama-Biden plan, a residual force will remain in Iraq and in the region to conduct targeted counter-terrorism missions against al-Qaeda in Iraq and to protect American diplomatic and civilian personnel," his statement read.
"They will not build permanent bases in Iraq, but will continue efforts to train and support the Iraqi security forces as long as Iraqi leaders move toward political reconciliation and away from sectarianism."
Bush has been loath to accept a timeline for withdrawal, but he has reportedly agreed to accept a plan that envisions the removal of U.S. troops by the end of 2011. The political debate inside Iraq has been over how to firm up the withdrawal timetable.
Obama’s statement recommends a withdrawal pace of one to two combat brigades a month, ending in 16 months.
“That would be the summer of 2010 – more than seven years after the war began. U.S. must apply pressure on the Iraqi government to work toward real political accommodation," Obama’s plan said.
"There is no military solution to Iraq’s political differences, but the Bush administration’s blank check approach has failed to press Iraq’s leaders to take responsibility for their future or to substantially spend their oil revenues on their own reconstruction."
Obama also has proposed dusting off the recommendations from the Iraq Study Group, which was headed by Bush family confidante James Baker and called for engaging Iran and Syria in discussions on stabilizing the region.
Bush brushed aside the Iraq Study Group’s report in December 2006 and instead followed a neoconservative plan to send 30,000 more troops to Iraq in what was called a “surge.”
Since then, more than 1,000 additional U.S. soldiers have died, but Bush and the neocons claim credit for reductions in levels of violence across Iraq.
Obama is scheduled to meet with Bush at the White House on Monday and it is likely Obama’s plan for Iraq will come up, according to two members of Obama’s transition team.
Last summer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer engineered a $162 billion funding bill for Iraq and Afghanistan that funded the war until mid-2009 without a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops, a move that angered many rank-and-file Democrats.
Pelosi apparently did not want to risk a political fight that she thought might jeopardize Democratic seats in Congress or reduce Obama’s chances of winning the White House.
Pelosi also explained, unconvincingly to some, that although she and her Democratic colleagues campaigned during the 2006 midterm elections on a promise to bring about a swift end to the war in Iraq, the party’s razor-thin majorities made it impossible to push through legislation to enact that goal
At a news conference on Wednesday, Pelosi made scant reference to ending the Iraq War, calling it a “priority” but declining to elaborate.
Progressive Democrats and senior members of the Out of Iraq Caucus, including Rep. Maxine Waters and Rep. Lynn Woolsey, are expected to hold up funding for Iraq operations next year unless there are clear benchmarks and timetables for withdrawal attached to spending bills.
Veronique de Rugy, a senior research fellow and budget scholar at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, who has closely tracked spending on the Iraq War, said Congress must change its spending habits.
In an interview, de Rugy said the Congress must end its “addiction” to emergency spending, which deprives lawmakers of the routine opportunity to scrutinize how the Pentagon spends the money.
Last month, the Congressional Research Service, an investigative arm of Congress, said the Bush administration’s reliance on emergency war funding circumvented normal budget constraints, reduced oversight and created opportunities for slipping in pet projects.
Emergency supplemental requests account for nearly all of the $661 billion spent thus far in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“That’s unprecedented,” de Rugy said. “Never before has emergency supplemental spending been used to fund an entire war and over the course of so many years. Other wars were initially funded through emergency supplementals but eventually it went through the regular budget process.”
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