Obama’s Iraq announcement fuels debate at home


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“After nearly nine years, America’s war in Iraq will be over,” President Barack Obama said Friday, Oct. 21, 2011 in announcing the full withdrawal of U.S. troops by the end of the year.

CNN Wire Service

The White House decision to withdraw virtually all U.S. troops from Iraq by the year’s end would make good on a 2008 presidential campaign pledge by then-candidate Barack Obama, but it’s also likely to draw a range of opinions as part of the current election season.

“As for U.S. domestic politics,” said David Mack, Middle East Institute scholar and former U.S. ambassador, “most of the American public is fed up with our involvement in Iraq.”

“It’s fine for [Sen. John McCain] and for [Sen. Lindsey Graham] to make a case for this… but the American public made it very clear,” Mack said.

Others question the wisdom of Friday’s announcement and whether it reflects a precipitous withdrawal that could ultimately harm U.S. interests abroad.

McCain, R-Arizona, has said Obama’s plans for withdrawal in both Iraq and Afghanistan “is not the ‘modest’ withdrawal that I and others had hoped for and advocated.”

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a GOP presidential hopeful, said Friday that the move comes amid “Obama’s astonishing failure to secure an orderly transition in Iraq” and that “the American people deserve to hear the recommendations that were made by our military commanders in Iraq.”

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, said she applauds “President Obama for a promise kept.”

“Today is a day to honor our troops and our military families who have sacrificed so much over the last nine years to give the Iraqi people a chance at a better future,” Boxer said. “It is now up to the Iraqis to secure their country and provide opportunity for all their people.”

Following the president’s announcement, Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said that he respectfully disagrees with the decision.

“I feel all we have worked for, fought for, and sacrificed for is very much in jeopardy by today’s announcement,” he said. “I hope I am wrong and the president is right, but I fear this decision has set in motion events that will come back to haunt our country.”

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, said he was “prepared to support a continued presence of U.S. trainers in Iraq beyond the end of this year.”

“But in light of Iraq’s refusal to eliminate the possibility that U.S. troops would face prosecutions in Iraqi courts, President Obama has made the right decision,” he added.

U.S.-Iraq talks broke down over the issue of legal immunity for U.S. troops, a senior U.S. military official with direct knowledge of the discussions told CNN this month.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and other top brass have repeatedly said any deal to keep U.S. troops in Iraq beyond the withdrawal deadline would require a guarantee of legal protection for American soldiers.

But the Iraqi leaders refused to agree to that, opening up the prospect of Americans being tried in Iraqi courts and subjected to Iraqi punishment.

Of the 39,000 troops in Iraq, only about 150 will remain to assist in arms sales, a U.S. official told CNN. The rest will be out of Iraq by December 31.

The Iraq war, which began in the spring of 2003, has left more than 4,400 Americans dead and killed countless Iraqis.

In Afghanistan, the remainder of the so-called “surge” force is scheduled to leave by September 2012, while the full American withdrawal is expected to take place by the end of 2014.

U.S. diplomats, however, have openly discussed the possibility of a much longer commitment in that country.