By Deena ElGenaidi
On Monday, January 14, the Iraqi defense minister, Abdul Qadir, during his weeklong US visit, announced that he predicts Iraq will not be able to stand on its own until 2018. In the interview, Qadir stated “According to our calculations and our timelines, we think that from the first quarter of 2009 until 2012 we will be able to take full control of the internal affairs of the country. In regard to the borders, regarding protection from any external threats, our calculation appears that we are not going to be able to answer to any external threats until 2018 to 2020.”
These projections, longer than anyone had previously anticipated, have been the most specific timelines announced regarding US troops in Iraq. However, officials at the Pentagon were not surprised by these remarks. Although President Bush has never given a military withdrawal date, he has said that “American forces would stand down as Iraqi forces stand up.” When asked if US presence in Iraq would continue for another decade, President Bush responded “It could easily be that. Absolutely.” John McCain expressed his agreement, stating, “We can succeed.”
Qadir was in the US to discuss the military relationship between the two nations. He hopes to rebuild the Iraqi military with help from America. Back in November, the US and Iraq announced that they would begin to negotiate the legal status of American military status in Iraq and “measures for cooperation in the diplomatic and economic arenas,” according to the New York Times. Although negotiations have not officially begun, both nations have started to plan these talks. Geoff Morrell, the Pentagon press secretary, spoke of Qadir’s visit, saying “This trip is indicative of where we are in our military relationship with Iraq. We are transitioning from crisis mode, from dealing with day-to-day battlefield decisions, to a long-term strategic relationship.”
Additionally, during his visit, defense minister Qadir began requesting new weapon purchases through Washington’s program of foreign military sales. His list included ground vehicles, helicopters, tanks, artillery, and armored personnel carriers. Then, once Iraq regains control of internal security he says the nation will need additional aircraft such as warplanes and reconnaissance vehicles. General James Mattis of the Marine Corps, attending the meetings with Qadir, called the visit a positive development since now “it is the norm to have an Iraqi come and visit us.”
Regarding the opinions of the presidential candidates, the Republicans have generally supported President Bush’s plan, agreeing with Qadir that 2018 sounds accurate. When John McCain was asked if staying in Iraq for another 50 years would be viable, he replied with “Make it a hundred.” Mitt Romney states “the surge is working,” arguing that progress is being made in Iraq. The Democrats on the other hand had much more to say on the issue.
Obama stated “I have opposed this war consistently. I have put forward a plan that will get our troops out by the end of 2009.” Although Obama did not ensure a full troop withdrawal, he said “What I can promise is that if there are still troops in Iraq when I take office … then I will drastically reduce our presence there to the mission of protecting our embassy, protecting our civilians, and making sure that we’re carrying out counterterrorism activities there.”
Clinton responded with “I’m on the record as saying exactly that, as soon as I become president, we will start withdrawing within 60 days. We will move as carefully and responsibly as we can, one to two brigades a month, I believe, and we’ll have nearly all the troops out by the end of the year, I hope.”
Next, Senator Edwards gave his response. When asked by reporters if it were acceptable for troops to remain until 2018, as Qadir suggested, he answered “No, it’s not acceptable.” He went on to say “We can’t let the Iraqis determine what America’s policy should be. I mean, that’s the responsibility on the President of the United States. And I’ve said it many times, I’ll say it again: The first year that I’m president, I will get all combat troops out of Iraq, end combat missions and make certain there are no permanent military bases in Iraq.”
So, the Iraq War depends primarily on the next president of the United States. The Republicans seem to agree with Bush’s plan, taking Qadir’s statements as a reality. If this is the case, it could be another decade before American troops pull out of Iraq. Democrats on the other hand hope to pull troops out as soon as possible. Whether the troops will have to wait another ten years to leave Iraq or not rests in the hands of the voting public.