U.S. moves to withdraw troops from Iraq weeks ahead of schedule


The United States is accelerating the withdrawal of its forces from Iraq and is expected to pull out all its approximately 40,000 troops by early December, weeks ahead of schedule, sources told Al Arabiya in Washington.

In the first week of December, U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden will visit Iraq to celebrate the end of the war and the return of the last U.S. soldier home, three weeks ahead of schedule.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, meanwhile, plans to visit Washington on Dec, 12 to discuss with President Barack Obama the future of the U.S.-Iraq relations.
Obama said on Oct. 21 that he had decided to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of the year. The announcement triggered panic in the ranks of Republicans in Congress and relief among Democrats.

Many Democrats argue that the war in Iraq was too costly to sustain, both in terms of human casualties and financial spending, especially during a period of economic recession.

As a Senator, Obama called the war in Iraq a “dangerous distraction” and said more emphasis should’ve been placed on Afghanistan.

The United States had sought to leave a limited number of troops, or trainees, in Iraq allegedly to assist in rebuilding the country’s armed forces, but Iraqi lawmakers refused to grant any remaining U.S. forces the judicial immunity.

U.S. Republicans criticized the pullout from Iraq, arguing that this could leave the country prey to arch-foe Iran.

“The idea that a commander-in-chief would stand up and signal to the enemy a date certain of which we’re going to pull our troops out I think is irresponsible,” Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry said Oct. 30 on “Fox News Sunday.

President Obama did not discuss Iran in his last talk with Maliki before announcing the complete withdrawal from Iraq, sources close to the Iraqi prime minister told Al Arabiya.

One official, who refused to be named, said the reason why Obama didn’t bother to raise the question of Iran was that U.S. officials were already aware of Maliki’s stance on Iran.

“Although the current Iraqi prime minister is keen to preserve good ties with Iran, he was determined to keep the decision-making in Iraq away from regional and international influence,” the official said. "This was confirmed when Maliki led a collation that wasn't favored by Iran and when he ordered crackdown on armed militias in Basra and other regions."

But despite attempts to Keep Iraq clear of foreign influence, Iran managed to penetrate many Iraqi militias and the Revolutionary Guard gained relative control over Iraq’s Mahdi army and the Bader corps, which is affiliated to the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. The revolutionary Guard also attempted to influence actions of the Maliki-led Dawa Party.

Iranian military and political influence in Iraq is not only what disturbs Washington, however. The United States is also concerned about growing Iranian soft-power in Iraq. Cheap Iranian goods have flooded Iraqi markets and Iranian companies have invested billions of dollars in construction projects in Iraq, including in the holly cities of Najaf and Karbala, home to some of the holiest Shi’a shrines.

(Translated from Arabic by Stanela khalil)