The Media's Premature Celebration of US Withdrawal From Iraq

It has been widely reported that Iraqis are celebrating the withdrawal of US forces from their country. But what the media has failed to emphasize is that 130,000 residual forces will still be operating inside of Iraq, and that President Obama intends to keep as many as 50,000 troops stationed in Iraq until 2011, though that date might change, and that there is no withdrawal timeline for thousands of private contractors.

The 2011 date is tentative as explained by the top US military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen:

"Conditions could change in that period of time. And, if we get to a point where this [Status of Forces Agreement] is agreed to, and have a relationship with the government of Iraq tied to it, that we will continue to have discussions with them over time, as conditions continue to evolve."

Mullen called the 2011 withdrawal date "adequate for what we need now," which sounds more like let's play it by ear. NBC's Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszeswki reported that "one senior military commander told us that he expects large numbers of American troops to be in Iraq for the next 15 to 20 years."

Major US bases in both Mosul and Baghdad, including Camp Victory in Baghdad, a complex housing more than 20,000 troops, will also remain open. Additionally, American combat helicopters and drones will continue to fly over Iraq.

President Obama also has 250,000 "contractors" (some armed, some unarmed) in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Obama increased the number of "Private Security Contractors" working for the Department of Defense in Iraq by 23% in the second quarter of 2009. Overall, contractors now make up approximately half of the "total force in Centcom AOR [Area of Responsibility]."

There are no withdrawal dates for private contractors.

Open military bases, large residual forces, and private contractors all make this celebration of a US withdrawal seem premature at best, and farcical at worst.

Cross-posted from Allison Kilkenny's blog. Also available on Facebook and Twitter.