Members of Congress say: Leave Iraq this year

iraq

Ninety-three members of the U.S. House of Representatives have signed a letter to President Obama urging complete withdrawal of U.S. forces and contractors from Iraq by the end of this year, as pledged in the Status of Forces Agreement signed with Iraq's government during the Bush administration.

The letter, dated July 27, was initiated by U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., and Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C. Three of Jones' Republican colleagues - Reps. Jimmy Duncan, Tenn., Tim Johnson, Ill., and Ron Paul, Texas - are among the signers.

The letter reads, in part:

We are writing to urge you to hold to our nation's Status of Forces Agreement with the government of Iraq that commits our nation to bringing all of our troops and military contractors home at the end of this calendar year.

The American people have made it clear that the war in Iraq must end. By wide and overwhelming margins, Americans approve of your plan to remove all the troops from Iraq by the end of this year.

We are deeply concerned to learn that your administration is considering plans to keep potentially thousands of U.S. troops in Iraq beyond the end of this year. Extending our presence in Iraq is counterproductive - the Iraqi people do not support our continued occupation. Remaining in Iraq would only strengthen the perception that we are an occupying force with no intention of leaving Iraq.

Leaving troops and military contractors in Iraq beyond the deadline is not in our country's security interests, it is not in our nation's strategic interests, and it is not in our nation's economic interests.

The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) was signed by the Bush administration and the Iraqi government in November 2008. While it commits the U.S. to withdraw all forces by the end of this year, it contains an escape clause: "... subject to possible further negotiations which could delay withdrawal ..."

Less than 50,000 U.S. troops now remain in Iraq. The Pentagon has been encouraging the Iraqi government to ask for an extension of their presence.

In May, before leaving the office of Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates said he favored extending the U.S. presence. "All I can say is, from the standpoint of Iraq's future but also our role in the region, I hope they figure out a way to ask," he said.

Earlier this month, on his first visit to Iraq, current Defense Secretary Leon Panetta declared the U.S. would have an "enduring presence" in the Middle East, and said he would like the decision-making process "to move a lot faster here ... Dammit, make a decision!"

Meanwhile, earlier this month 100 Iraqi lawmakers signed a petition to the Iraqi government demanding U.S. troops leave their country by the end of this year, as scheduled.

Photo: U.S. soldier trains Iraqi police, via U.S. Army.