On the quiet Sunday morning of Dec. 18, 2011, the last U.S. forces left Iraq, effectively ending an almost nine-year war in the country.
“As a candidate for president, I pledged to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end,” President Obama said two months earlier. “As promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year.”
One of the major criticisms of the Iraq War was that no exit strategy was in place before the initial invasion in 2003. Obama had indeed promised to bring all of the troops home if he was elected, but that task proved to be a difficult one after he became president. Congress had tried and failed to pass resolutions to set up withdrawal timetables since 2005, and partial withdrawals in the period since saw “transitional forces” left behind to police a country being ripped apart by sectarian violence.
Discussions about extending the stay of U.S. troops in Iraq ended in October, as the U.S.–Iraq Status of Forces Agreement was set to expire on Dec. 31, 2011. The Obama administration decided to remove all American forces from the country in part because members of the U.S. military would no longer enjoy immunity in Iraqi courts after the agreement expired.
Proponents of the withdrawal from Iraq see the removal of U.S. troops as a long-needed end to a bloody and painful conflict that probably didn’t need to be fought in the first place. Opponents of the withdrawal argue that Iraq will become a haven for terrorists after the U.S. occupation, and they also worry about Iran’s influence in the newly sovereign but bitterly divided country.
Did the U.S. withdraw from Iraq too soon? Here’s the Debate Club’s take:
Daniel J. Gallington Senior Policy and Program Adviser at the George C. Marshall Institute