In a stunning and largely unexpected victory for the American peace movement and Iraqi opponents of the US occupation, virtually all US troops will withdraw from Iraq as scheduled by this December 31.
First reported by the Associated Press on October 16, the US pullout will allow President Obama to keep an important promise, and the Iraqi government to defend its sovereign power.
Remaining behind in Baghdad, however, will be the world’s largest US Embassy, the size of eighty football fields, with some 5,000 staff, including private contractors. There may be some 160 active-duty US soldiers attached to the embassy, according to the AP story. Thousands more US troops will likely be redeployed over the border to Kuwait.
According to the AP account, the Iraqis rejected intense Pentagon lobbying to retain a “residual” force of thousands of US troops. Earlier this year, the Pentagon was insisting on 10,000–15,000 troops at a minimum, a number that was slashed to a slender 3,000–4,000 troop proposal by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta a few weeks ago.
The main sticking point was the US demand for immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts for American troops. The Iraqi Parliament rejected immunity, citing memories of torture at Abu Ghraib and reckless shootings of civilians by American contractors during the conflict.
Withdrawing the 48,000 remaining US troops will save approximately $50 billion annually. The direct cost of the Iraq War over the past decade has been $800 billion, with indirect expenditures like veterans’ care pushing the long-term cost into the range of $6 trillion, in the estimate of scholars Linda Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz. More than 4,500 Americans have lost their lives in the conflict, while more than 30,000 were wounded. Iraq itself remains one of the poorest countries in the world, with millions of dead, wounded and displaced people.
Aside from the AP, the mainstream media downplayed or missed the story announcing the end of the American war. The New York Times ran a short account on page 11, saying the Panetta proposal for training Iraqi troops had been “scaled back” to “far less” than the 3,000–5,000 figure. “No final decision on a remaining force had been reached,” the Times quoted White House and Pentagon sources as saying.
The American withdrawal will be met with chagrin by many neoconservatives and the military, and with skepticism by many who distrust White House promises. But the decision is consistent with the demands of American peace groups, who called for an end to the occupation and to “bring our troops home.”
Early opposition to the war arose in October 2002, when 100,000 Americans demonstrated in Washington, DC, a protest that was virtually ignored by the media. From that year to 2008, there were more than ten national protests of more than 100,000, several nearing a half-million, coordinated usually by United For Peace and Justice and ANSWER. The February 2003 protests were global, perhaps the largest coordinated anti-war rallies in history. Public opinion was turning against the war as a “mistake” by 2007. Groups like Pacifica and MoveOn were invigorated as independent media and online networks.