There is good news from the House Appropriations Committee today: Members voted in Congressman Sam Farr's (D-CA) amendment to the supplemental funding bill for Iraq and Afghanistan. This amendment takes two important steps to push back against the disconcerting signs of mission creep in Iraq:
1) It puts Congress on record in support of President Obama's policy to withdraw all U.S. combat forces from Iraq by August 2010 and all of the remaining U.S. forces by the end of 2011; and
2) It orders the Pentagon to provide Congress with a detailed month-by-month report on how the troops, the contractors and the equipment are being removed.
Why is this important? Last December a Status of Forces Agreement was signed by the U.S. and Iraqi governments that required the removal of all US troops from Iraqi soil by the end of 2011. It specifies three deadlines toward that goal: 1) all U.S. combat forces are to be removed from Iraqi cities and villages by the end of next month; 2) all U.S. combat forces are to be removed from the country by August 31, 2010; and 3) all remaining U.S. military forces are to be removed from Iraq by the end of 2011.
From the moment the agreement was signed, however, military leaders like the Commanding General in Iraq, General Ray Odierno, have been complaining that security conditions might require U.S. forces to stay longer than the agreement allows.
READ: MISSION CREEP ALERT!
When General Odierno was asked earlier this year if all combat forces will, in fact, be removed from Iraqi cities and villages by the end of June of this year, he balked, saying that they can remain if they are joined by Iraqi forces. His comment created a firestorm of protest in the Iraqi parliament. A military planner told reporters that many of these combat troops would likely be "re-assigned" as "residual forces", thereby allowing them to stay put to "assist" with security. Two weeks ago, the New York Times reported that Iraqi officials were being asked to reconsider the definition of "city" to allow combat bases to remain within some Iraqi cities. The same story revealed that the U.S. and Iraq will soon "begin negotiating possible exceptions to the June 30 deadline for withdrawing American combat forces from Iraqi cities".
Do you get the feeling that there is pushback from the military brass to the idea of removing U.S. troops from Iraq?
It is hard to find any pushback coming from the guys in the line of fire. When the president announced his Iraq withdrawal policy before a packed house of Marines at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina a few weeks ago, the loudest applause came when the president said it was finally time to hand over responsibility for Iraq to the Iraqis.
That is why it is significant that Congress is weighing in on the president's withdrawal policy. The Farr amendment not only affirms Congressional support, but positions Congress to keep a close eye out for evidence of mission creep. The Pentagon has to report its progress toward meeting the president's withdrawal policy every month.
Will there continue to be violence and instability in Iraq as U.S. forces are removed? Yes. But if a secure and peaceful Iraq is the requirement for the removal of U.S. forces, then our forces will be there for a very long time. If, on the other hand, the bottom line is that it is time for Iraqis to take responsibility for Iraq-as 80% of the Iraqi population wants-then the president is right. It is time for U.S. forces to go.
Washington Post military reporter and best selling author Tom Ricks reports that there is a "consensus within the military" that U.S. combat operations are only half over in Iraq-that we will have combat troops fighting there in 2015. Congress should not allow that to happen, and today's vote passage of the Farr amendment is a good start.
Follow Tom Andrews on Twitter: www.twitter.com/TomHAndrews