Monday, June 15, 2009


In my last posting, I mentioned our ongoing drawdown a couple of times.  I thought I'd go a little more in depth into that topic, particularly after reading an article in the Stars and Stripes today.

When I first arrived in Iraq last September, it was pretty widely assumed that we would be here for another decade or more.  That was certainly the mindset of the Bush administration.  Those of us involved in the reconstruction of the country felt the same way, regardless of who would win the upcoming presidential election.  I mean, Iraq is just so dysfunctional, so broken in so many ways, that it would take a long time to make it into a functioning member of the world order.  

Then two things happened.  One, we elected Obama as our President.  One of his campaign pledges was to pull us out of Iraq, and he put that pledge in motion almost immediately after being sworn in.  Two, we signed the Security Agreement (also known, somewhat erroneously, as the "Status of Forces Agreement", or SOFA).  This document codified the requirement for us to pull our military forces out of Iraq by December 31, 2011.  But as recently as a few months ago, many of us were still pretty sure that there would be an American presence across the country for the foreseeable future.

Not now.  The change in direction is clear, and if you don't get it, General Odierno will personally come and educate you with a two-by-four.  We are already drawing down, and as every day goes by, the drawdown gains momentum.  The "surge" went away months ago and we're well below pre-surge levels now.  A few weeks ago, I went an orientation/training session out at Al Faw Palace and heard Odierno's Chief of Staff personally stress to all of us that we have a hard deadline in place and that we better be working toward it at full speed.

You don't get much clearer than that.

Then today, I saw an article in the Stars and Stripes newspaper.  Titled "Referendum on SOFA Could Boot US From Iraq in 2010", it discussed something that I have not heard from any of the big-league news outlets.  There is an nationwide referendum scheduled for July 30 in which the people of Iraq will vote on whether to accept the Security Agreement (aka "SOFA") that we negotiated last fall.  Here's the important line:
"If the referendum goes ahead as scheduled and Iraqi voters reject the agreement — a likely outcome, observers say — the United States would be obliged to pull out troops one year after the vote, or nearly 1½ years before the deadline set by the pact."

Now that's huge.  To get all our troops and equipment out on that timetable, we'd be doing nothing but withdrawal stuff.  It would take a full-court press to ship out our equipment, dismantle our bases, turn property over to the Iraqis, close down organizations, ship people and units back to wherever they came from, and maintain our own security as that's going on.  Meanwhile, all the stuff we're currently doing for Iraq would have to cease.  We're training Iraqi military and security forces, helping government officials learn how to run their agencies, working with locals to get them to run their own affairs, trying to keep the lid on sectarian divisions, and keeping the politicians talking rather than shooting.  From my own little perspective, we still have over a billion dollars worth of reconstruction projects going on around the country.  Projects like schools, water treatment plants, hospitals, and electricity.  If we have to do an accelerated drawdown, those projects will have to stop.  I seriously doubt that the Iraqis could pick them up.  They don't (yet) have the organizational skills, nor the people, nor the money, to do it.

The Stars and Stripes article went on to say that some Iraqi government officials are trying to delay the vote until the national election in January.  That may or may not be approved.  But still, there's a very real possibility that the American military will be out of Iraq long before December, 2011.

Note, though, that our military has to be out of here by then.  The State Department and other civilian agencies can stay.  But most of our work is being done by or through the military.  Because of the security situation, Americans can't just jump in a car and drive wherever they want.  We need military escorts and protection.  No military, no protection, no movement.  Simple as that.

What do I think about it?  Well, if you've been reading this blog for a while, you know that sometimes I think we should just pack up and leave, and other times I think we need to be here for the long term.  But you know, it's not our decision.  It shouldn't be.  If the Iraqis want our help, we can help.  If they don't, then we ought to go.

One of my co-workers observed that the Romans pulled out of Britain in about 430 AD.  It was over 1400 years before Britain had running water again.  Let's hope that doesn't happen here!


  1. The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 06/16/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

  2. Thanks for the do you feel about this ~ will it seize all rebuilding efforts, or just slow them down?

    Is this a situation where it is strictly the military or do the Iraqi's want continued support from our State Department?

    Wildly curious...

  3. How do I feel about it? Sometimes I want to finish up everything we're doing, and other times I think we should just leave. If the referendum fails and we have to leave by July 2010, then I don't see how we can carry on. We'll complete the projects we can complete before the new withdrawal date, terminate those we can't, and start closing up shop as fast as possible.

    This applies, by the way, strictly to the military. The State Department will remain here, as will other civilian agencies such as USAID, Treasury, and others. But how they do their jobs will be the million-dollar questions!

  4. How can they remain there with no means of security? I strongly question the current policy and its ability to protect, how can those agencies remain there...Are there new policies brewing?

    This gives me major angst...I sincerely hope we are not taking our "relationships" for granted. Not one more American life is worth the matter what the cost, all must be properly protected, not just in theory and on paper! We need to ditch the political agenda and get back to the real business of saving lives. My opinion ~

    Do you think the average Iraqi citizen understands what is happening with this referendum? I think not...the long term impact will cripple the progress. Yikes...

    Please keep us in the loop with any changes.

    Thank you for your time Mister Rohde.