Contents: The Sir! No Sir! blog is an information clearing house, drawing on a wide variety of sources, to track the unfolding history of the new GI Movement, and the wars that brought the movement to life.
Where applicable, parallels will be drawn between the new movement and the Vietnam era movement which was the focus of the film Sir! No Sir!
Disclaimer: In accordance with title 17 u.s.c. section 107, this material is distributed without profit for research and educational purposes.
The Sir! No Sir! Blog has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is the Sir! No Sir! Blog endorsed or sponsored by the originator. Links are provided to allow for verification of authenticity.
This article, by Oliver Augiust, was posted to the Times Online, October 20, 2009
President Obama’s pledge to withdraw US troops from Iraq and end combat operations there by September 2010 is under threat because of increased levels of violence and bickering within the Iraqi parliament, the top US general in the country has told The Times.
General Ray Odierno said that militant groups were likely to conduct a bloody campaign in the months ahead, as Iraqis prepare for national elections at the beginning of next year.
“It’s clear that al-Qaeda and other groups do not want the elections to occur,” he said in an interview. “What I think they will try to do is discourage people from voting by undermining the authority of the Government of Iraq with attacks, so that people lose faith in the democratic process.”
The Iraqi parliament has failed repeatedly to pass a new election law because of arguments over whether ballot papers should give the names of candidates, or of parties only. MPs are now talking about delaying the election, planned for January 16.
The prospect was causing the US serious concern, said General Odierno. “I worry that it calls into question the Iraqi commitment to this form of government. If the parliament doesn’t pass the election law and they delay the elections, that violates their own constitution, which says they have to have elections in January.”
A postponement would almost certainly affect the US President’s pledge to end combat operations in Iraq by August 31 next year and to withdraw all US troops by the end of 2011.
General Odierno said he had hoped to send as many as 70,000 soldiers home between March and August, but would keep troop strengths at current levels until 30 to 60 days after elections to ensure a safe transfer of power.
This timetable gave him little room for manoeuvre, he said. “We would have to make a decision on whether we continue to draw down on the current timeline or delay it. Obviously that’s a decision made by the President, but I’d certainly have to provide recommendations on what our position should be.
“Our plan here will influence how they decide to implement what decision they make on Afghanistan,” he said of a possible second surge being debated by the White House. If troop levels in Iraq remain higher than planned, freshly trained US brigades will be needed to replace those finishing their tours of duty, and would not be available for Afghanistan.
General Odierno, who commands 120,000 troops from one of Saddam’s old palaces near Baghdad airport, highlighted the Kurdish regions in the north as being particularly vulnerable to insurgents. “Al-Qaeda is trying to re-establish a foothold in the north and then extend out,” he said. Since early summer, the ethnically mixed areas around the cities of Mosul and Kirkuk have seen countless attacks.
“We are trying to find solutions for how we can reduce the tensions between Kurds and Arabs. Al-Qaeda is trying to exploit the fissures.”
In addition, he said, Anbar province — where US forces fought some of the most bitter battles early in the occupation — was again showing signs of terrorist activity. “The last ten days have gotten my attention,” General Odierno said of the province, which is the centre of the Sons of Iraq alliance between Sunni tribes and the Americans. Last week there were several attacks on urban areas and bridges.
“We believe we have some cells that are starting to re-emerge in Anbar and we are watching closely. We will work very hard to eliminate those cells.”
The following article was posted to CNN online, October 1, 2009
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- It isn't clear whether the United States will ever be able to declare victory in Iraq, the top U.S. commander there said Thursday.
'm not sure we will ever see anyone declare victory in Iraq, because first off, I'm not sure we'll know for 10 years or five years," Army Gen. Ray Odierno told reporters at the Pentagon.
About 123,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq now, and President Obama says all combat forces will be gone by the end of August 2010, leaving as many as 50,000 noncombat troops to advise and train Iraqi forces before leaving by the end of 2011.
Odierno has said he wants to draw down the U.S. forces at a faster rate than planned if the security situation allows it. On Thursday, he said he expected the number of U.S. troops to drop to 120,000 by the end of October, and to as few as 110,000 by the end of 2009.
"What we've done here is we're giving Iraq an opportunity in the long term to be a strategic partner of the United States, but more importantly, be a partner in providing regional stability inside of the Middle East," Odierno said.
Odierno also highlighted continuing security issues inside the country, saying Iraqi security forces have recently seized several "very large" caches of Iranian-made rockets and armor-piercing munitions known as explosively formed penetrators, or EFPs.
"If you're training people ... in Iran to come back into Iraq, and you're providing them rockets and other things, I call that significant because it still enables people to conduct attacks not only on U.S. forces but on Iraqi civilians," Odierno said.
At a congressional hearing Wednesday, Odierno said the main threat to stability in Iraq are Arab-Kurd tensions, adding there has been difficulty bringing the two sides together for possible joint patrols.
"We've had some very good meetings," he said. "But we still have some ways to go on that."
This article, by Ernesto Londoño, was published in the Wahington Post, August 18, 2009
BAGHDAD, Aug. 17 -- U.S. troops could be forced by Iraqi voters to withdraw a year ahead of schedule under a referendum the Iraqi government backed Monday, creating a potential complication for American commanders concerned about rising violence in the country's north.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's move appeared to disregard the wishes of the U.S. government, which has quietly lobbied against the plebiscite. American officials fear it could lead to the annulment of an agreement allowing U.S. troops to stay until the end of 2011, and instead force them out by the start of that year.
The Maliki government's announcement came on the day that the top U.S. general in Iraq proposed a plan to deploy troops to disputed areas in the restive north, a clear indication that the military sees a continuing need for U.S. forces even if Iraqis no longer want them here.
Gen. Ray Odierno said American troops would partner with contingents of the Iraqi army and the Kurdish regional government's paramilitary force, marking the first organized effort to pair U.S. forces with the militia, known as the pesh merga. Iraqi army and Kurdish forces nearly came to blows recently, and there is deep-seated animosity between them, owing to a decades-long fight over ancestry, land and oil.
If Iraqi lawmakers sign off on Maliki's initiative to hold a referendum in January on the withdrawal timeline, a majority of voters could annul a standing U.S.-Iraqi security agreement, forcing the military to pull out completely by January 2011 under the terms of a previous law.
It is unclear whether parliament, which is in recess until next month, would approve the referendum. Lawmakers have yet to pass a measure laying the basic ground rules for the Jan. 16 national election, their top legislative priority for the remainder of 2009.
Before signing off on the U.S.-Iraqi security agreement last year, Iraqi lawmakers demanded that voters get to weigh in on the pact in a referendum that was to take place no later than last month. Because it did not happen, American officials assumed the plebiscite was a dead issue.
U.S. officials say they have no way to know how the referendum would turn out, but they worry that many Iraqis are likely to vote against the pact. Maliki billed the withdrawal of U.S. forces from urban areas at the end of June as a "great victory" for Iraqis, and his government has since markedly curbed the authority and mobility of U.S. forces.
Senior Pentagon officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that Odierno probably will make an announcement later this week or early next week the accelerating the withdrawal of U.S. forces, which now stand at 130,000, by one or two brigades between now and the end of the year. Each brigade consists of about 5,000 troops. Odierno said Monday that he has not decided whether to speed up the plan, which he said remains on schedule.
The acceleration would still be much slower than if the referendum nullified the agreement.
Still, senior Pentagon officials played down Maliki's announcement, saying it was an expected part of Iraq's political process. Senior Iraqi officials did not raise the possibility of the referendum with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates when he visited the country earlier this month, Pentagon officials said.
Bahaa Hassan, who owns a mobile phone store in Najaf, south of Baghdad, said he would vote for a speedier withdrawal.
"We want to get rid of the American influence in Iraq, because we suffer from it politically and economically," he said. "We will vote against it so Iraq will be in the hands of Iraqis again."But many Iraqis, particularly Sunnis and Kurds, consider the presence of the U.S. military a key deterrent to abuses of power by the Shiite-led government.
"After six years of Shiite rule and struggle, we still have no electricity, so what will happen if Americans leave?" said Dhirgham Talib, a government employee in Najaf. "The field will be left to the Shiite parties to do whatever they want with no fear from anybody."
A poll commissioned by the U.S. military earlier this year found that Iraqis expressed far less confidence in American troops than in the Iraqi government or any of its security forces. Twenty-seven percent of Iraqis polled said they had confidence in U.S. forces, according to a Pentagon report presented to Congress last month. By contrast, 72 percent expressed confidence in the national government.
Zainab Karim, a Shiite lawmaker from the Sadrist movement, the most ardently anti-American faction, said she was pleasantly surprised that the government is backing the referendum.
"I consider this a good thing," she said. "But we have to wait and see whether the government is honest about this or whether it is electoral propaganda."
As the Iraqi government took steps to force U.S. troops out earlier than planned, Odierno said Monday that he would like to deploy American forces to villages along disputed areas in northern Iraq to defuse tension between Kurdish troops and forces controlled by the Shiite Arab-led government in Baghdad.
"We're working very hard to come up with a security architecture in the disputed territories that would reduce tension," Odierno told reporters. "They just all feel more comfortable if we're there."
Scores of Iraqis have been killed in recent weeks in villages along the 300-mile frontier south of the Kurdish region. U.S. military officials say the attacks bear the hallmarks of Sunni extremists, but local leaders have traded accusations to bolster their positions on whether specific areas should be under the control of Baghdad or the autonomous government of Kurdistan.
The pesh merga currently controls some villages that are nominally outside the three-province Kurdish region. The expansion of Kurdish influence in northern Iraq has prompted Maliki to deploy more troops loyal to Baghdad to northern provinces south of Kurdistan. The new provincial leadership in Nineveh province, the most restive among them, has made curbing Kurdish expansion its top priority and has called for the expulsion of pesh merga forces.
The tension, Odierno said, has created a security vacuum that has emboldened al-Qaeda in Iraq, a Sunni insurgent group that he said was almost certainly responsible for recent sensational bombings in the province. The number of civilian casualties in Iraq has increased since the urban pullout, Odierno said, largely as a result of attacks in the disputed territories.
What we have is al-Qaeda exploiting this fissure between the Arabs and the Kurds," he said. "What we're trying to do is close that fissure."
This article, by Benjamin Morgan, was published by Agence France Presse, May 10, 2009
BAGHDAD (AFP) – Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki assured visiting US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sunday that his country's security will be unaffected by the planned American troop withdrawal from Iraqi cities.
"We don't need big numbers of (US) military forces inside the cities after we get control of them," Maliki said in a statement after talks with the top US lawmaker, who arrived in Baghdad on an unannounced visit.
"The responsible withdrawal (of US troops) will not affect the security situation," Maliki added.
A fierce critic of the 2003-US invasion ordered by former president George W. Bush, Pelosi's one-day visit came as US troops prepare to withdraw from Iraq's urban areas by the end of next month despite a spike in violence.
The withdrawal is a key part of a military accord signed by Baghdad and Washington last November that will also see US troops leave the country by the end of 2011.
Maliki said Iraq's military efforts were now concentrated on improving its intelligence services.
The US Congress, for its part, should try to develop bilateral relations focused on the scientific and economic agreements signed by the two countries, he said.
"Under stability, we are seeking to develop our economy, especially the oil industry, after multinationals have already come to work and invest in the sector," he said.
Pelosi said that Washington would stick to its part of the agreement on troop withdrawals.
"I can't speak to what the attitude is in Iraq, but what I do know that this is the plan that has been agreed upon, and we want to honour that," the California Democrat said after meeting parliament speaker Iyad al-Samarrai.
"Our agenda included talking about the strategic framework agreement and how it needs to be discussed and strengthened and enforced," Pelosi told a news conference after the meeting.
She said that Washington was withdrawing its troops in spite of the continued violence in Iraq.
Tackling the rampant corruption that international surveys routinely say makes Iraq one of the world's most corrupt countries was also crucial to its stability, as was improving US intelligence, she said.
"If we're going to have a diminished physical military presence, we have to have a strong intelligence presence," she said.
Pelosi, who previously visited Iraq in January 2007 and again in May of last year, also met with US officials and later left the country, a US embassy official said.
Her visit came as Iraq has been hit by a spate of deadly bombings which targeted crowded civilian areas, making April -- with 355 people killed -- the bloodiest month in the country since September.
Despite the violence, Iraq has insisted it will stick to the deadline for American troops to withdraw from cities by June 30, while Washington's top commander in Iraq, General Ray Odierno, has insisted the pullout is on track.
Pelosi has backed President Barack Obama's plan to end US combat operations in Iraq by August 2010, but has at the same time faulted his plans to leave behind a residual force of up to 50,000 soldiers.
"The remaining missions given to our remaining forces must be clearly defined and narrowly focused so that the number of troops needed to perform them is as small as possible," she said in February.
The US military currently has about 139,000 troops in Iraq.
This article, by Jason Ditz, was published by Antiwar.com, May 8, 2009
Top US Commander in Iraq General Ray Odierno was decidedly non-committal today on the question of how many US troops would remain in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul and the capital of Baghdad by June 30, as required by the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the Iraqi government.
“There is potential that they can handle the mission starting 1 July,” Odierno said of the possibility of Iraqi forces taking over operations in Mosul as per the agreement. At the same time, he seemed willing to confirm that troops would remain, and seemed irked at people who were waiting for the long-promised US victory over the insurgents, declaring “it’s not going to end, OK? There’ll always be some sort of low-level insurgency in Iraq for the next 5, 10, 15 years.”
The Iraqi government has repeatedly ruled out the US remaining in cities beyond June 30, but the United States has challenged that decision, and Gen. Odierno previously said the US might just choose to ignore the deadline, and it seems they will do exactly that.
Violence across Iraq has been on the rise for the past two months, particularly in Baghdad, but while US officials have dismissed that as an aberration, Mosul has steadily been a hotbed of violence for the past several years. The real question is unlikely to be whether an extra 45 days will turn the situation around - rather it is if the deadline turns into another point of dispute between the US and the Maliki government.
This article, by Gareth Porter, was posted to Alternet, March 26, 2009
WASHINGTON, Mar 25 (IPS) -- Despite President Barack Obama’s statement at Camp LeJeune, North Carolina Feb. 27 that he had "chosen a timeline that will remove our combat brigades over the next 18 months," a number of Brigade Combat Teams (BCTs), which have been the basic U.S. Army combat unit in Iraq for six years, will remain in Iraq after that date under a new non-combat label.
A spokesman for Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, Lt. Col. Patrick S. Ryder, told IPS Tuesday that "several advisory and assistance brigades" would be part of a U.S. command in Iraq that will be "re-designated" as a "transition force headquarters" after August 2010.
But the "advisory and assistance brigades" to remain in Iraq after that date will in fact be the same as BCTs, except for the addition of a few dozen officers who would carry out the advice and assistance missions, according to military officials involved in the planning process.
Gates has hinted that the withdrawal of combat brigades will be accomplished through an administrative sleight of hand rather than by actually withdrawing all the combat brigade teams. Appearing on "Meet the Press" Mar. 1, Gates said the "transition force" would have "a very different kind of mission," and that the units remaining in Iraq "will be characterized differently."
"They will be called advisory and assistance brigades," said Gates. "They won't be called combat brigades."
Obama’s decision to go along with the military proposal for a "transition force" of 35,000 to 50,000 troops thus represents a complete abandonment of his own original policy of combat troop withdrawal and an acceptance of what the military wanted all along -- the continued presence of several combat brigades in Iraq well beyond mid-2010.
National Security Council officials declined to comment on the question of whether combat brigades were actually going to be left in Iraq beyond August 2010 under the policy announced by Obama Feb. 27.
The term that has been used internally within the Army to designate the units that will form a large part of the "transition force" is not "Advisory and Assistance Brigades" but "Brigades Enhanced for Stability Operations" (BESO).
Lt. Col. Gary Tallman, a spokesman for the Joint Staff, confirmed Monday that BESO will be the Army unit deployed to Iraq for the purpose of the transition force. Tallman said the decision-making process now underway involving CENTCOM and the Army is to determine "the exact composition of the BESO".
But the U.S. Army has already been developing the outlines of the BESO for the past few months. The only change to the existing BCT structure that is being planned is the addition of advisory and assistance skills rather than any reduction in its combat power. The BCT is organized around two or three battalions of motorized infantry but also includes all the support elements, including its own artillery support, needed to sustain the full spectrum of military operations.
Those are permanent features of all variants of the BCT, which will not be altered in the new version to be deployed under a "transition force," according to specialists on the BCT.
They say the only issue on which the Army is still engaged in discussions with field commanders is what standard augmentation a BCT will need for its new mission.
Maj. Larry Burns of the Army Combined Arms Centre at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, told IPS that Army Chief of Staff Gen. George W. Casey directed the Combined Arms Centre, which specialises in Army mission and doctrine, to work on giving the BCTs the capability to carry out a training and advisory assistance mission.
The essence of the BESO variant of the BCTs, according to Burns, is that the Military Transition Teams working directly with Iraqi military units will no longer operate independently but will be integrated into the BCTs.
That development would continue a trend already begun in Iraq in which the BCTs have gradually acquired operational control over the previously independent Military Transition Teams, according to Maj. Robert Thornton of the Joint Center for International and Security Force Assistance at Fort Leavenworth.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, the commander of Army Training and Doctrine Command, has issued Planning Guidance calling for further refinement of the BESO. After further work on the additional personnel requirements, Casey was briefed on the proposed enhancement of the BCT for the second time in a month at a conference of four-star generals on Feb. 18, according to Burns.
Other names for the new variant that were used in recent months but eventually dropped made it explicitly clear that it is simply a slightly augmented BCT. Those names, according to Burns, included "Brigade Combat Team-Security Force Assistance" and "Brigade Combat Team for Stability Operations."
The plan to deploy several augmented BCTs represents the culmination of the strategy of "relabeling" or "remissioning" of BCTs in Iraq that was developed by U.S. military leaders in the wake of the surge of candidate Barack Obama to near-certain victory in the presidential election last year.
Late last year, Gen. David Petraeus, the CENTCOM chief, and Gen. Ray Odierno, the top commander in Iraq, were unhappy with Obama’s pledge to withdraw all U.S. combat brigades within 16 months. But military planners quickly hit on the relabeling scheme as a way of avoiding the complete withdrawal of BCTs in an Obama administration.
The New York Times revealed Dec. 4 that Pentagon planners were talking about "relabeling" of U.S. combat units as "training and support" units in a Dec. 4 story, but provided no details. Pentagon planners were projecting that as many as 70,000 U.S. troops would be maintained in Iraq "for a substantial time even beyond 2011".
That report suggested that the strategy envisioned keeping the bulk of the existing BCTs in Iraq as under a new label indicating an advisory and support mission.
Secretary Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen discussed a plan to re-designate U.S. combat troops as support troops at a meeting with Obama in Chicago on Dec. 15, according a report in the Times three days later.
Gates and Mullen reportedly speculated at the meeting on whether Iraqis would permit such "re-labeled" combat forces to remain in Iraqi cities and towns after next June, despite the fact that the U.S.-Iraq withdrawal agreement signed in November 2008 called for all U.S. combat forces to be withdrawn from populated areas by the end of June 2010.
That report suggests that Obama was well aware that giving the Petraeus and Odierno a free hand to determine the composition of a "transition force" of 35,000 to 50,000 troops meant that most combat brigades would remain in Iraq rather than being withdrawn, as he ostensibly promised the U.S. public on Feb. 27.
This article, by Robert Burns, was published by the Associated Press, Februuary 23, 2009
WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama faces split opinions within the military on whether to make the speedy withdrawal from Iraq he championed on the campaign trail.
Obama’s top generals in Baghdad are pressing for an elongated timetable, while some influential senior advisers inside the Pentagon are more amenable to a quicker pullout.
Although Obama has yet to decide the matter, his announcement last week that he’s sending thousands more combat troops to Afghanistan implies a drawdown of at least two brigades from Iraq by summer.
But that does not answer the question that has been dangling over Iraq since he took office in January: Will Obama stick to his stated goal of a 16-month pullout or opt for a slower, less risky approac
Gen. Ray Odierno, the top American commander in Baghdad, favors a longer timetable for leaving Iraq. He sees 2009 as a pivotal year, with parliamentary elections set to be held in December; he doesn’t want to lose more than two of the 14 combat brigades that are now in Iraq before the end of the year. And he believes the U.S. military will need to remain engaged in Iraq, to some degree, for years to come.
Odierno’s boss at U.S. Central Command, Gen. David Petraeus, leans toward Odierno’s view.
Gen. David McKiernan, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, has steered clear of the debate over withdrawing from Iraq, but he sees his battlefield as an increasingly urgent priority — not just for additional combat troops but also for Iraq-focused surveillance aircraft and more civilian support.
There are now about 146,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, compared with 38,000 in Afghanistan. Obama has directed 17,000 more to head to Afghanistan, including Marines and soldiers who had been in line for Iraq duty.
At the Pentagon, a more mixed view prevails. The uniformed service chiefs see Iraq as a strain on their troops and, more broadly, a drain on their resources. The Marines, in particular, are in the tough position of having a foothold in both major U.S. wars — Iraq and Afghanistan. As a relatively small service, they would prefer to concentrate more fully on Afghanistan, if only they could get out of Iraq.
Neither Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, nor Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said publicly whether he supports a 16-month withdrawal timeline. But they have their own perspective — an obligation to consider the full spectrum of threats and potential threats to U.S. national security.
“There’s a very clear understanding of what is at stake here,” Mullen said Feb. 10.
“And it’s very natural for Gen. Odierno to want to go slower and to hang onto capability as long as possible,” he added. “That’s not unusual. It’s very natural for Gen. McKiernan to say, ‘I need more.’ And so that’s the tension. We don’t have an infinite pot (of resources and deployable forces). We have to make hard decisions about where to accept risk.”
In internal discussions, the emphasis appears to be on getting out responsibly rather than quickly, several officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because no decisions have been made.
Obama must weigh an array of hard-to-figure tradeoffs in security and politics. And he must reconcile his conviction that the combat phase of U.S. involvement in Iraq must end with his commanders’ concern in Baghdad that hard-fought gains could be squandered.
It boils down to this: How much more effort is the Iraq war worth? What is the risk of leaving too soon?
Is the 16-month timetable too short, given the uncertain state of stability and political reconciliation in Iraq and the potential cost of seeing the country slide back into widespread sectarian war?
And is anything substantially beyond 16 months too long, given the call for still more troops in Afghanistan, where Obama himself has said the battle against extremists is going in the wrong direction?
Obama is still considering his options, which officials say includes a less hurried, 23-month withdrawal. The deadline he inherited from the Bush administration is Dec. 31, 2011, the date set in a security agreement with Baghdad that says all U.S. troops, not just combat forces, must be gone by then.
One clue to some of the thinking inside the White House might lie with the views of Obama’s national security adviser, retired Marine Gen. James Jones. Jones co-chaired a study published in January 2008 on the way ahead in Afghanistan. The group endorsed the idea of providing more military support for Afghanistan, including resources that become available as combat forces are withdrawn from Iraq.
The president has an additional factor to weigh: the political cost of backing off the 16-month pullout timetable that was a prominent feature of his campaign. Although he has said he thinks 16 months is a reasonable timetable, he also has assured military leaders that he will consider their advice.
Notably absent, at least so far, is even a whiff of public pressure from fellow Democrats to stick to a 16-month timeline. That suggests Obama’s party might be satisfied so long as he makes early and clear steps in the direction of ending U.S. combat involvement in Iraq, even if on a somewhat longer timeline.
Obama campaigned for the White House on a promise that he would end the war and get U.S. commanders moving immediately on a transition to Iraqi control of their own security. He said military experts believe combat troops can be pulled out safely at a rate of one to two brigades a month, meaning all 14 combat brigades there now could be gone within 16 months, which equates to mid-2010.
Peter Mansoor, a retired Army colonel who was the executive officer for Petraeus when the general was in Baghdad overseeing the “surge” of U.S. forces in 2007-08, said he thinks it likely that Obama will pull at least four combat brigades out of Iraq by the end of this year. But he hopes the president does not insist on getting all 14 brigades out within 16 months.
“If the president orders it, the military can do it, but whether it’s advisable or not is a different story,” he said in a telephone interview. “Quite frankly, I don’t think it is, given the risk you would incur to potentially upsetting the political situation” inside Iraq.
This article, by Gareth Porter, was published by IPS, February 9, 2009
WASHINGTON, Feb 9 (IPS) - The political maneuvering between President Barack Obama and his top field commanders over withdrawal from Iraq has taken a sudden new turn with the leak by CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus - and a firm denial by a White House official - of an account of the Jan. 21 White House meeting suggesting that Obama had requested three different combat troop withdrawal plans with their respective associated risks, including one of 23 months.
The Petraeus account, reported by McClatchy newspapers Feb. 5 and then by the Associated Press the following day, appears to indicate that Obama is moving away from the 16-month plan he had vowed during the campaign to implement if elected. But on closer examination, it doesn't necessarily refer to any action by Obama or to anything that happened at the Jan. 21 meeting.
The real story of the leak by Petraeus is that the most powerful figure in the U.S. military has tried to shape the media coverage of Obama and combat troop withdrawal from Iraq to advance his policy agenda - and, very likely, his personal political interests as well.
This writer became aware of Petraeus's effort to influence the coverage of Obama's unfolding policy on troop withdrawal when a military source close to the general, who insisted on anonymity, offered the Petraeus account on Feb. 4. The military officer was responding to the IPS story 'Generals Seek to Reverse Obama Withdrawal Decision' published two days earlier [link below].
The story reported that Obama had rejected Petraeus's argument against a 16-month withdrawal option at the meeting and asked for a withdrawal plan within that time frame, and that Petraeus had been unhappy with the outcome of the meeting.
It also reported that Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and retired Army general Jack Keane, a close ally of Petraeus, had both made public statements indicating a determination to get Obama to abandon the 16-month plan.
The officer told IPS that, contrary to the story, Petraeus had been "very pleased" with the direction of the discussions. He said that there had been no decision by Obama at the meeting and no indication that Obama had a preference for one option over another.
The military source provided the following carefully worded statement: "We were specifically asked to provide projections, assumptions and risks for the accomplishment of objectives associated with 16-, 19- and 23-month drawdown options." That was exactly the sentence published by McClatchy the following day, except that "specifically" was left out.
The source also said Petraeus, Odierno and Ambassador Ryan Crocker had already reached a "unified assessment" on the three drawdown options and had forwarded them to the chain of command.
But a White House official told IPS Monday that the Petraeus account was untrue. "The assessments of the three drawdown dates were not requested by the president," said the official, who insisted on not being identified because he had not been authorised to comment on the matter. "He never said, 'Give me three drawdown plans'."
McClatchy's Nancy Youssef reported a similar account from aides to Obama. "Obama told his advisors shortly after taking office that he remained committed to the 16-month timeframe," Youssef wrote, "but asked them to present him with the pros and cons of that and other options, without specifying dates."
That suggests that the only specific plan for which Obama requested an assessment of risks was the 16-month plan, but that he agreed to look at other plans as well.
The sentence given to this writer as well as to McClatchy bore one obvious clue that the request for the assessments of three drawdown plans did not come from Obama: the sentence used the passive voice. It also failed to explicitly state that the request in question was made during the meeting with Obama.
Petraeus did not respond to a request through the intermediary to say who requested the studies and whether they had been proposed by the military commanders themselves. McClatchy's Youssef also noted that it is "unclear who came up with the idea..." of the 19- and 23-month withdrawal plans.
By implying that Obama had requested the three plans without saying so explicitly, the sentence leaked by Petraeus seems to have been calculated to create a misleading story.
One of Petraeus's objectives appears to have been to counter any perception that he is seeking to undermine Obama on Iraq policy. Petraeus wishes to remain out of the spotlight in regard to any conflict regarding withdrawal over the Iraq issue. "He has been very careful to keep a very low profile," said the military officer close to Petraeus, "because this is a new administration."
But the Petraeus leak also serves to promote the idea that Obama is moving away from his campaign pledge on a 16-month combat troop withdrawal, which has already been the dominant theme in news media coverage of the issue. That idea would also justify continued sniping by military officers at the Obama 16-month plan as too risky.
In a new book, 'The Gamble', to be published Tuesday, Washington Post reporter Tom Ricks confirms an earlier report that in his initial encounter with Petraeus in Baghdad last July, Obama had made no effort to hide his sharp disagreement with the general's views. Obama interrupted a lecture by Petraeus, according to Ricks, and made it clear that, as president, he would need to take a broader strategic view of the issue than that of the commander in Iraq.
Ricks, who interviewed Petraeus about the meeting, writes that Obama's remarks "likely insulted Petraeus, who justly prides himself on his ability to do just that..." That strongly implies that Petraeus expressed some irritation at Obama over the incident to Ricks.
On top of the interest of Petraeus and other senior officers in keeping U.S. troops in Iraq for as long as possible, Petraeus has personal political interests at stake in the struggle over Iraq policy. He has been widely regarded as a possible Republican Presidential candidate in 2012.
Petraeus evidently believed the White House was promoting a story that made him look like the loser at the Jan. 21 meeting. "I imagine the White House is not too happy that this information is out there," said the military source, referring to the Petraeus account he had provided to IPS.
Obama is obviously treading warily in handling Petraeus. His concern about Petraeus's political ambitions may have been a factor in the decision to bring four-star Marine Corps Gen. James Jones in as his national security adviser.
"I've been told by a couple of people that one of the reasons for Jones being chosen was to have him there as a four-star to counter Petraeus," says one Congressional source.
This article, by Gareth Porter, was published by IPS, February 2, 2009
WASHINGTON, Feb 2 (IPS) - CENTCOM commander Gen. David Petraeus, supported by Defence Secretary Robert Gates, tried to convince President Barack Obama that he had to back down from his campaign pledge to withdraw all U.S. combat troops from Iraq within 16 months at an Oval Office meeting Jan. 21.
But Obama informed Gates, Petraeus and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen that he wasn't convinced and that he wanted Gates and the military leaders to come back quickly with a detailed 16-month plan, according to two sources who have talked with participants in the meeting.
Obama's decision to override Petraeus's recommendation has not ended the conflict between the president and senior military officers over troop withdrawal, however. There are indications that Petraeus and his allies in the military and the Pentagon, including Gen. Ray Odierno, now the top commander in Iraq, have already begun to try to pressure Obama to change his withdrawal policy.
A network of senior military officers is also reported to be preparing to support Petraeus and Odierno by mobilising public opinion against Obama's decision.
Petraeus was visibly unhappy when he left the Oval Office, according to one of the sources. A White House staffer present at the meeting was quoted by the source as saying, "Petraeus made the mistake of thinking he was still dealing with George Bush instead of with Barack Obama."
Petraeus, Gates and Odierno had hoped to sell Obama on a plan that they formulated in the final months of the Bush administration that aimed at getting around a key provision of the U.S.-Iraqi withdrawal agreement signed envisioned re-categorising large numbers of combat troops as support troops. That subterfuge was by the United States last November while ostensibly allowing Obama to deliver on his campaign promise.
Gates and Mullen had discussed the relabeling scheme with Obama as part of the Petraeus-Odierno plan for withdrawal they had presented to him in mid-December, according to a Dec. 18 New York Times story.
Obama decided against making any public reference to his order to the military to draft a detailed 16-month combat troop withdrawal policy, apparently so that he can announce his decision only after consulting with his field commanders and the Pentagon.
The first clear indication of the intention of Petraeus, Odierno and their allies to try to get Obama to amend his decision came on Jan. 29 when the New York Times published an interview with Odierno, ostensibly based on the premise that Obama had indicated that he was "open to alternatives".
The Times reported that Odierno had "developed a plan that would move slower than Mr. Obama's campaign timetable" and had suggested in an interview "it might take the rest of the year to determine exactly when United States forces could be drawn down significantly".
The opening argument by the Petraeus-Odierno faction against Obama's withdrawal policy was revealed the evening of the Jan. 21 meeting when retired Army Gen. Jack Keane, one of the authors of the Bush troop surge policy and a close political ally and mentor of Gen. Petraeus, appeared on the Lehrer News Hour to comment on Obama's pledge on Iraq combat troop withdrawal.
Keane, who had certainly been briefed by Petraeus on the outcome of the Oval Office meeting, argued that implementing such a withdrawal of combat troops would "increase the risk rather dramatically over the 16 months". He asserted that it would jeopardise the "stable political situation in Iraq" and called that risk "not acceptable".
The assertion that Obama's withdrawal policy threatens the gains allegedly won by the Bush surge and Petraeus's strategy in Iraq will apparently be the theme of the campaign that military opponents are now planning.
Keane, the Army Vice-Chief of Staff from 1999 to 2003, has ties to a network of active and retired four-star Army generals, and since Obama's Jan. 21 order on the 16-month withdrawal plan, some of the retired four-star generals in that network have begun discussing a campaign to blame Obama's troop withdrawal from Iraq for the ultimate collapse of the political "stability" that they expect to follow U.S. withdrawal, according to a military source familiar with the network's plans.
The source says the network, which includes senior active duty officers in the Pentagon, will begin making the argument to journalists covering the Pentagon that Obama's withdrawal policy risks an eventual collapse in Iraq. That would raise the political cost to Obama of sticking to his withdrawal policy.
If Obama does not change the policy, according to the source, they hope to have planted the seeds of a future political narrative blaming his withdrawal policy for the "collapse" they expect in an Iraq without U.S. troops.
That line seems likely to appeal to reporters covering the Iraq troop withdrawal issue. Ever since Obama's inauguration, media coverage of the issue has treated Obama' s 16-month withdrawal proposal as a concession to anti-war sentiment which will have to be adjusted to the "realities" as defined by the advice to Obama from Gates, Petreaus and Odierno.
Ever since he began working on the troop surge, Keane has been the central figure manipulating policy in order to keep as many U.S. troops in Iraq as possible. It was Keane who got Vice President Dick Cheney to push for Petraeus as top commander in Iraq in late 2006 when the existing commander, Gen. George W. Casey, did not support the troop surge.
It was Keane who protected Petraeus's interests in ensuring the maximum number of troops in Iraq against the efforts by other military leaders to accelerate troop withdrawal in 2007 and 2008. As Bob Woodward reported in "The War Within", Keane persuaded President George W. Bush to override the concerns of the Joint Chiefs of Staff about the stress of prolonged U.S. occupation of Iraq on the U.S. Army and Marine Corps as well its impact on the worsening situation in Afghanistan.
Bush agreed in September 2007 to guarantee that Petraeus would have as many troops as he needed for as long as wanted, according to Woodward's account.
Keane had also prevailed on Gates in April 2008 to make Petraeus the new commander of CENTCOM. Keane argued that keeping Petraeus in the field was the best insurance against a Democratic administration reversing the Bush policy toward Iraq.
Keane had operated on the assumption that a Democratic president would probably not take the political risk of rejecting Petraeus's recommendation on the pace of troop withdrawal from Iraq. Woodward quotes Keane as telling Gates, "Let's assume we have a Democratic administration and they want to pull this thing out quickly, and now they have to deal with General Petraeus and General Odierno. There will be a price to be paid to override them."
Obama told Petraeus in Baghdad last July that, if elected, he would regard the overall health of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps and the situation in Afghanistan as more important than Petraeus's obvious interest in maximising U.S. troop strength in Iraq, according to Time magazine's Joe Klein.
But judging from Petraeus's shock at Obama's Jan. 21 decision, he had not taken Obama's previous rejection of his arguments seriously. That miscalculation suggests that Petraeus had begun to accept Keane's assertion that a newly-elected Democratic president would not dare to override his policy recommendation on troops in Iraq.
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama's top military officials said Thursday they will make sure he knows the potential downside of any timetable for pulling U.S. forces out of Iraq, including the 16-month deadline Obama set during his presidential campaign.
"Our obligation is to give the president a range of options and the risks associated with each of those options, and he will make the decision," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said. He said the 16-month option is one of several. He did not provide a range, nor say which option he himself prefers.
Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are both holdovers from the Bush administration and one-time critics of a swift or deadline-driven withdrawal. Speaking publicly for the first time since Obama took office, both men suggested that the 16-month timeline is not as firm as Obama's campaign rhetoric implied.
"We've certainly heard 16 months for a long time," Mullen told reporters. "We've looked at options, looked at that option, and the risks that are associated with that."
When Obama is ready, Mullen said, "I will advise him accordingly, and then he'll make the decision."
Meanwhile, the U.S. diplomat who has seen Iraq transformed from chaos to relative calm over the past two years said that a hasty departure of U.S. troops would carry severe risks. Al-Qaida might be emboldened and Iraq's security and political gains threatened, Ambassador Ryan Crocker said.
Speaking to reporters a day after he and the top U.S. commander in Iraq briefed Obama by video connection, Crocker declined to say what he and Gen. Ray Odierno told the president.
But he noted that the president was committed to a responsible pullout of the more than 140,000-strong U.S. force.
"A precipitous withdrawal runs some very severe risks," Crocker said in Baghdad.
He said that al-Qaida had been "much weakened" due to setbacks on the battlefield and a loss of support within the Sunni Arab community.
"But as long as they can cling to some handhold here, they are going to keep trying to literally fight their way back," Crocker said.
"And perhaps most important it would have a chilling effect on Iraqis," he said of a quick U.S. departure. "I think the spirit of compromise, of accommodation, of focus on institutional development — all of that would run the risk of getting set aside."
Iraqi officials have said they hope the new administration will stick by the generally longer timeline established in the U.S.-Iraq security agreement which went into effect this month. The deal provides for U.S. combat troops to leave the cities by the end of June, with all U.S. troops gone from the country by 2012.
Military officials said there was no decision made at Wednesday's session in the Situation Room. The meeting on Obama's first full day in office was meant to frame his pledge to quickly end a war he has called misguided and wasteful. He has pledged to turn the nation's focus to what he calls a more pressing conflict in Afghanistan.
Gates called the meeting with Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and others just the start of a process to evaluate numerous options for Iraq.
"There was a good give-and-take," Gates said.
"We discussed a deliberate and yet rapid process," Mullen said.
In a statement after the meeting, Obama said he had told the generals and advisers to come up with a plan for a responsible drawdown, but he did not mention the 16-month timeline.
Military commanders say Iraq is much more stable and safe than it was a year ago, and certainly far calmer than in the darkest days of sectarian bloodshed in 2005 and 2006.
American soldiers are still dying in Iraq, but in fewer numbers even as they take greater risks and fewer precautions.