United For Peace and Justice statement on Obama’s Iraq withdrawal plan

President Obama is scheduled to announce a plan today to pull all combat troops out of Iraq by 19 months from his inauguration — August 2010 — three months later than his campaign promise of a 16-month pullout. During his speech before Congress on Tuesday night, Obama said that he would be announcing ‘a way forward in Iraq that leaves Iraq to its people and responsibly ends this war.’

President Obama is largely keeping to his campaign promises, and that is a good thing. We are hopeful that we now have a president who wants to act on the will of the people who elected him. Taking steps to end the war in Iraq is a reflection of the anti-war consensus among the people of this country — a consensus that the peace movement, led by United For Peace and Justice, helped build. Numerous commentators note that Obama’s early promise to ‘end the war’ played a huge part in generating early public support for his campaign.

The country and the world need a plan to fulfill the clear and unequivocal goal of a complete withdrawal of all troops, pulling out of all the 150,000 U.S. paid foreign mercenaries and contractors, closing all the bases, and ending efforts to control Iraqi oil.

With the announcement of the 19-month withdrawal plan, there are still critical ambiguities and unanswered questions that need to be addressed. The human and the economic costs in Iraq continue to mount at a time of a global economic crisis. The security and economic needs of both the Iraqis and U.S. peoples cannot be met while the war and occupation continues.

A ‘partial withdrawal’ will leave behind as many as 50,000 to 70,000 U.S. troops. ‘It will require a significant number of troops to train the Iraqi military, conduct targeted counterterrorism operations and protect American personnel and assets,’ according to General Ray Odierno, U.S. commander in Iraq. Other officials speak of the plan to leave behind ‘intelligence and surveillance specialists and their equipment, including unmanned aircraft.’

Some units may be re-labeled, so those currently counted as combat troops would remain in Iraq but be ‘re-missioned,’ their efforts redefined as training and support for the Iraqis. That is not an end to the occupation. In fact, it could lead to U.S. troops being in Iraq indefinitely.

The ‘status of forces agreement’ agreement (SOFA) with Iraq — signed by a reluctant and defeated White House in the last days of the Bush administration — calls for all U.S. forces to be out of Iraq by the end of December 2011. President Obama’s announcement may reflect a similar timetable as well. But sources from within the Pentagon point to the fact that the status-of-forces agreement remains subject to change, by mutual agreement, and estimates are that between 30,000 and 50,000 will remain in Iraq beyond 2011.

The SOFA agreement calls for all combat troops to be out of Iraqi cities by this summer; and by the end of 2011, for all U.S. forces to be out of Iraq and all the U.S. bases to be turned over to Iraq.

For several years now, the Congress has repeatedly said no to leaving U.S. bases behind. We need to know what the timetable is for turning the bases over to the Iraqis.

The agreement is filled with big loopholes; the biggest is that both sides can suggest changes. The Iraqi government — from its beginnings, dependent on and accountable to the U.S. — is certainly different now. It has created a significant domestic power base. However, is it strong enough to refuse a quiet U.S. ‘request’ for amending the agreement to push back or eliminate the ostensibly final deadline for the withdrawal of all U.S. troops?

Alongside of the unanswered questions on troop withdrawals and U.S. bases, how will the presence of U.S. military contractors be ended? Although President Obama is the commander in chief, the oil companies and powerful contractors, whose CEOs and stockholders have made billions in war profits on Iraq contracts, remain a powerful pressure on the administration and Congress. While it is good that President Obama has promised transparency in the contracting process, our country also needs a commitment to bring home all the mercenaries and contractors.

Almost three more years of occupation is way too long. Having a date-specific to withdraw troops is a positive step in the right direction. But a 19-month partial withdrawal is not enough. Our movement has always been clear and we remain committed to this point: all of the troops must be brought home now! We are also deeply troubled by and opposed to the decision to send more troops into the senseless war in Afghanistan. The peace movement must once again press forward for a complete end to the occupation of Iraq, leaving no troops and no bases behind. The peace movement’s job is to mobilize, to pressure, to continue to educate and advocate, and to agitate for a real end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

On March 19 and 20, the sixth anniversary of the war, local antiwar activities will take place in communities throughout the country. On April 4, we will march on Wall Street in New York City. We will lift up the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, on this year’s anniversary of his historic Beyond Vietnam speech to say that ‘Beyond War: A New Economy is Possible’.