Obama, Like Bush, Ignores Iraqi Will at His Own Peril
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In discussing his plans for the Iraq War during the presidential campaign, one group that Barack Obama seldom, if ever, mentioned as supporting his proposed policy was the Iraqi people.
Obama's campaign website, which differs only slightly from his transition website, lays out very clearly what he sees as problematic with the Iraq War. It highlights U.S. casualties -- without mentioning the hundreds of thousands (some studies estimate over one million) of Iraqi civilians who have died as a result of the invasion and occupation -- and the exorbitant financial cost of the war, while arguing from a strategic perspective that the diversion of troops and resources to Iraq "continues to set back our ability to finish the fight in Afghanistan."
Not only is Iraqi opinion completely ignored, but Obama's website actually blames the victim -- a popular line with both Democrats and Republicans -- by stating that "the Iraqi government has not stepped forward to lead the Iraqi people." How Iraqis are supposed to take control of their destiny with 146,000 U.S. troops -- and an even larger number of U.S. contractors -- in their country is apparently not a relevant question.
Failure to mention Iraqi opinion during the campaign, however, wasn't due to a lack of knowledge about what they think. In fact, since the war began, the Iraqis have been extensively polled and the results are telling. Below is a sampling of these poll results, each compared with the president-elect's proposed policy for the Iraq War.
1) A March 2008 poll by Opinion Business Research found that 70% of Iraqis wanted foreign troops to leave. Of that group, 65% said they wanted the troops to leave "immediately or as soon as possible," and another 13% responded "within six months." Such sentiment has remained fairly consistent since shortly after the U.S. invasion. In April 2004, for example, a USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll found that 57% of Iraqis wanted the U.S. and British forces to "leave immediately."
Obama has repeatedly pledged to "responsibly end the war in Iraq," convincing many of his supporters who didn't dig beneath the campaign rhetoric that he was the "peace candidate." Obama's plan from the beginning, however, has consisted of withdrawing only the "combat brigades" over a 16-month period and leaving behind a " residual force in Iraq [that] would perform limited missions: going after any remnants of al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, protecting American service members and, so long as the Iraqis make political progress, training Iraqi security forces."
While Obama hasn't estimated how large this force might be, his advisors have told the press that up to 50,000 troops could stay behind. A higher estimate came last April from the coordinator of Obama's working group on Iraq, who suggested in a policy paper for the Center for a New American Security that "perhaps 60,000 – 80,000 forces" should remain in Iraq after the withdrawal of combat troops. To what extent Iraqis would consider cutting the number of foreign troops in their country by half, or even by two-thirds, an end to the occupation is questionable, to say the least.
One recent development that could affect Obama's plan was the signing of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) by the U.S. and Iraq in November. This landmark pact stipulates that the United States must withdraw all of its combat forces from Iraqi cities and villages by the end of June this year, and that all of its forces must leave the country by the end of 2011. In addition, the SOFA stipulates that the United States must get approval from Iraqi courts for house raids and consult with the Iraqis on every other military operation, strips legal immunity from all U.S. contractors, and returns control of Iraqi airspace and the Green Zone to the Iraqi government. Another provision requires a public referendum in July 2009 on the agreement, which the Iraqi people think gives the US too long to leave, according to polls.