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!
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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 Robert Dreyfuss, was posted to The Nation, September 14, 2009
The hawks, neoconservatives, and Israeli hardliners are squealing, but the US and Iran are set to talk. The talks will begin October 1, among Iran and the P5 + 1, the permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany.
Mohammed ElBaradei, the outgoing head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), was ebullient, even as he urged Iran to "engage substantively with the agency," saying:
"Addressing the concerns of the international community about Iran's future intentions is primarily a matter of confidence-building, which can only be achieved through dialogue. I therefore welcome the offer of the US to initiate a dialogue with Iran, without preconditions and on the basis of mutual respect."
That's exactly the right tone and message, and it underscores that President Obama is doing precisely what he campaigned on, namely, to open a dialogue with Iran. It's an effort that began with his comments on Iran during his inaugural address, his videotaped Nowruz message to Iran last winter, a pair of quiet messages to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's Leader, and Obama's careful and balanced response to the post-election crisis over the summer. Once started, the talks aren't likely to have a swift conclusion, but the very fact that they're taking place will make it impossible for hawks to argue successfully either for harsh, "crippling" sanctions on Iran or for a military attack.
That didn't stop Bibi Netanyahu, for one, from trying. Speaking to Israel's foreign affairs and defense committee today, the Israeli leader said:
"I believe that now is the time to start harsh sanctions against Iran -- if not now then when? These harsh sanctions can be effective. I believe that the international community can act effectively. The Iranian regime is weak, the Iranian people would not rally around the regime if they felt for the first time that there was a danger to their regime -- and this would be a new situation."
Netanyahu's belief in sanctions, harsh measures, and regime change was echoed by John Hannah, the former top aide to Vice President Cheney, who wrote an op-ed criticizing Obama for taking regime change off the table in dealing with Iran. Hannah utterly ignored the fact that eight years of anti-Iran, pro-regime change bombast from the Bush-Cheney administration did nothing but strengthen Iran's hawks, while Obama's softer, dialogue-centered approach to Iran helped boost the power of the reformists and their allies in Iranian politics. Indeed, it was precisely Obama's less belligerent tone that confused the Iranian hardliners, emboldened the liberals, reformists and pragmatists in Iran, and therefore did more to create the conditions for "regime change" than anything that Bush, Cheney, and Hannah did.
Nevertheless, here's Hannah:
"It is ironic, of course, that just as the Obama administration seemed prepared to write off regime change forever, the Iranian people have made it a distinct possibility. It would be tragic indeed if the United States took steps to bolster the staying power of Iran's dictatorship at precisely the moment when so many Iranians appear prepared to risk everything to be rid of it. It would also seem strategically shortsighted to risk throwing this regime a lifeline."
Hannah adds that whatever happens in the talks, Obama had better be careful not to undermine the possibility that the regime might collapse. "However engagement now unfolds, Obama should do nothing to undermine this historic opportunity."
Other, less temperate hawks have forthrightly condemned Iran's offer to negotiate. The Weekly Standard ridiculed Iran's five-page statement on opening negotiations:
"The Iranian response is a bad joke. It makes a complete mockery of the situation."
And the churlish Washington Post, in an editorial written before the US agreed to start talks with Iran, huffed that Iran's offer to talk was a "non-response" and complained that so far Obama has had no results:
"President Obama's offer of direct diplomacy evidently has produced no change in the stance taken by Iran during the George W. Bush administration, when Tehran proposed discussing everything from stability in the Balkans to the development of Latin America with the United States and its allies -- but refused to consider even a temporary shutdown of its centrifuges."
And the Post again brought up the importance of getting "tough" with Iran and pushing for sanctions, a la Netanyahu, even though neither Russia nor China will have anything to do with more sanctions. (The Europeans don't really want more sanctions either, though they say they do. And Venezuela has offered to export whatever gasoline Iran needs if, in fact, the United States tries to impose a cut-off of refined petroleum products imported by Iran.)
We can only hope, now, that the United States and the rest of the P5 + 1 will table an offer to Iran to allow Tehran to maintain its uranium enrichment program, on its own soil, combined with a system of stronger international inspections. That's the end game: not regime change, not Big Bad Wolf threats of military action, not Hillary Clinton-style "crippling sanctions," not an Iran without uranium enrichment -- but an Iran that is ushered into the age of peaceful use of nuclear energy, including enrichment, in exchange for a comprehensive settlement.
This article, by Heath Druzin, was published in Stars and Stripes, September 19, 2009
BAGHDAD — With more than two years left in the slow, regimented ending to a chaotic war, new rules placing tens of thousands of U.S. combat troops under virtual house arrest on their bases mean the American military increasingly finds itself a symbolic force in Iraq.
Whether it’s symbolic of a problem or a solution depends on whom you ask.
Many inside and outside the U.S. military are now calling for the United States to hasten its withdrawal from this still-fragile country. They point to a newly assertive Iraqi national government that has significantly curtailed the U.S. forces’ mission, an Iraqi public largely hostile to U.S. troops and U.S. commanders in Afghanistan urgently seeking more soldiers to wage the increasingly intractable war there.
About 130,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq — twice the size of the force in Afghanistan — but many have been moved from the combat outposts that were so key to Gen. David Petraeus’ "surge" strategy. Instead, under the terms of a security agreement worked out between the U.S. and the Iraqi government that pulled back American troops from Iraqi cities, the U.S. forces remain largely confined to sprawling bases resembling fortified towns, such as Baghdad’s Victory Base Complex.
Generally forbidden to patrol, the troops fill their days with training, maintaining equipment and packing up unneeded material for shipment out of Iraq.
Iraqi security forces still have the option to conduct joint patrols with Americans or to request their help, but it almost never happens. American troops are almost invisible in Iraqi cities, moving in the dead of night, and then only with Iraqi permission.
The U.S. is providing behind-the-scenes help with intelligence, training and air support, but day-to-day security is almost entirely an Iraqi enterprise.
"The thing is that we don’t really need the Americans to help us in the cities," said Lt. Gen. Ali Qaidan Majeed, commander of Iraqi ground forces.
U.S. Army Col. Timothy Reese, chief of the Baghdad Operations Command Advisory Team, argued in a recent memo titled "It’s Time for the U.S. to Declare Victory and Go Home" that the United States has done all it can for Iraq and should accelerate its scheduled withdrawal from the country to August 2010 — 16 months earlier than now planned.
"As the old saying goes, ‘guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days,’ " Reese wrote. "Since the signing of the 2009 Security Agreement, we are guests in Iraq, and after six years in Iraq, we now smell bad to the Iraqi nose."
Reese continued: "Our combat operations are currently the victim of circular logic. We conduct operations to kill or capture violent extremists of all types to protect the Iraqi people and support the [Iraqi government]. The violent extremists attack us because we are still here conducting military operations."
In Baghdad, many troops echo Reese’s concerns, privately questioning how much more the U.S. can offer the Iraqi security forces. But they say that expressing such views publicly would threaten their military careers.
"I agree with [Reese] 100 percent, but you can’t say that out loud," said one officer who has worked closely with Iraqi security forces and who asked to remain anonymous. ‘Rethink the mission’
Michael O’Hanlon, a military analyst and author of the Brookings Institution’s authoritative Iraq Index, agrees that the U.S. is overmanned for its new, limited missions.
But O’Hanlon does not endorse accelerating the withdrawal as quickly as Reese, citing the U.S. role in bolstering intelligence and training and mediating ethnic tensions in northern Iraq.
"It is true, at the moment we have too many troops for the missions we’re being allowed to perform," O’Hanlon said. "However, the right solution might be to rethink the mission set and consider at least temporarily expanding it somewhat."
U.S. commanders are increasingly walking a political tightrope, praising the competence of Iraqi forces and downplaying their own security role while simultaneously endorsing the decision to keep a mid-sized city’s worth of troops on standby. Some speculate that the troops are being kept as backup for an expected increase in violence during Iraq’s national elections, scheduled for January.
Lt. Gen. Charles Jacoby, commander of Multi-National Corps–Iraq, said at a recent news conference that there are no plans to accelerate the U.S. withdrawal.
"We’re happy with our current schedule; we think our strategy is sound," Jacoby said. "We’re enabling and assisting [the Iraqis] as they ask. They don’t need our combat forces in the city."
Yet, a recent spike in violence, punctuated by devastating truck bombs last month outside two Iraqi ministries in Baghdad that killed about 100 people, has renewed doubts about the ability of Iraqi security forces to deal with an insurgency that appears bent on rekindling sectarian violence.
August was one of the deadliest months for Iraqi civilians in the past year, according to an Associated Press tally.
There is also concern about continuing violence in northern areas claimed by both Kurds and Arabs, where insurgents have staged bombings in Kurdish towns in hopes of triggering ethnic reprisals.
Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, has proposed a more active role for U.S. troops there, including trilateral patrols grouping Kurdish, Arab and American soldiers. But that idea is still in the planning stage and Iraq is not much nearer to solving the territorial dispute than it was at the beginning of the war.
Many U.S. troops who have worked closely with their Iraqi counterparts scoff at the idea that the Iraqis are capable of standing up to the insurgency, citing infiltration, corruption and a general lack of discipline. One lieutenant in Baghdad said his Iraqi counterpart openly skims between 20 and 30 percent of his soldiers’ salaries off the top, a practice difficult to track in Iraq’s cash economy. Slower pullout?
Despite his confidence that his troops can stand on their own, Majeed, the Iraqi ground forces commander, says he still needs U.S. backup, even leaving the door open to a longer-than-planned U.S. commitment if Iraqi forces prove unready by the time remaining U.S. combat forces pull out.
The agreement between Washington and Baghdad calls for the withdrawal of American combat forces by the end of August 2010 and of all U.S. troops by the end of 2011.
"If it doesn’t happen by 2011, we would have to find a new mechanism to work with the Americans," he said.
In the end, the U.S. may not have much say in the matter.
Iraqi voters are scheduled to vote in January whether to rescind the status of forces agreement that allows the U.S. military to operate in the country. The Iraqi parliament would then need to ratify the results of the referendum and order the complete U.S. withdrawal to be sped up by a year.
The outcome of that popular vote is not in much doubt. With the exception of the Kurdish north, anti-American sentiments are widespread in Iraq. Iraqis may be unsure of their country’s fledgling security forces, but they have grown increasingly weary of the U.S. presence, which many remember for heavy-handedness and the daily frustrations of passing through checkpoints and enduring long traffic jams behind slow-moving military convoys.
Parliamentary elections are scheduled for the same time as the January referendum, and candidates are finding anti-occupation platforms popular with Iraqis.
Elected officials and military commanders frequently challenge the Americans. For example, U.S. convoys are now regularly stopped at Iraqi checkpoints, a source of irritation for many American troops.
If Iraqis do decide to boot out the U.S. a year ahead of schedule, it would require a complete focus on the logistics of leaving at the expense of other tasks, such as sharing intelligence and training, said Brig. Gen. Heidi Brown, who is overseeing the exodus of U.S. equipment and troops.
"Is [a rapid redeployment] doable? Yes, but you pay the price," she said.
During a visit to Baghdad on Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden said the U.S. would follow the lead of Iraqi officials regarding the timetable for the pullout.
"Whatever the Iraqi people decide," Biden told reporters, "we will abide by it."
This article, by Walter Pincus, was posted to After Downing Street,. September 13, 2009
As the United States withdraws its combat forces from Iraq, the government is hiring more private guards to protect U.S. installations at a cost that could near $1 billion, according to the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction.
On Sept. 1, the Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I) awarded contracts expected to be worth $485 million over the next two years to five firms to provide security and patrol services to U.S. bases in Iraq.
Under this contract, the firms will bid against one another for individual orders at specific bases or locations. These "task orders" in the past have ranged from supplying one specialist to providing as many as 1,000 people to handle security for a major base.
Under a similar contract with five security contractors that began in September 2007, the MNF-I spent $253 million through March 2009, with needs growing over that 18-month period. That contract, which was to run three years, had a spending limit of $450 million.
Against that background, the inspector general for reconstruction predicted that costs for private security at U.S. facilities in Iraq "will grow in size to a potential $935 million." The inspector general's report, issued this year, said the MNF-I planned to switch to private guards for Victory Base Camp, one of its largest installations. That facility alone would require "approximately 2,600 security personnel," the report said.
The need for contract guards began growing this year. The Central Command's June quarterly report on contracting showed a 19 percent increase from the three previous months in the number of security guards in Iraq hired by the Defense Department. The Central Command attributed the increase, from 10,743 at the end of March to 13,232 at the end of June, mainly to "an increased need for PSCs [private security companies] to provide security as the military begins to draw down forces."
In its study, the inspector general's office found that at 19 sites where private guards replaced soldiers, many more guards were needed to do the same job. It said the task order for Camp Bucca, primarily a detention facility, called for "417 personnel to free up approximately 350 soldiers for combat operations." At Forward Operating Base Hammer, the task order called for 124 private guards to allow 102 soldiers to take on combat activities.[M1]
In some cases, as at Camp Taji, a major supply installation, the report says that more than 900 private personnel replaced 400 soldiers, but that the private guards took on additional tasks "to address deficiencies in existing site security."
The United States also uses contractors when coalition forces withdraw. When Georgian soldiers left unexpectedly last August from a base near the Iranian border where they were providing security, private contractors replaced them.
The Central Command study found that of the armed private security personnel working in June, 623 were Americans, 1,029 were Iraqis and 11,580 were third-country nationals. Most of that group "were from countries such as Uganda and Kenya," according to the inspector general's report[M2].
Under the new MNF-I contract, guards must be at least 21 years old, speak English "at a level necessary to give and receive situational reports[M3]," and be an expatriate or an Iraqi, but the latter only when specifically allowed. Those who handle dogs used to inspect vehicles and search out explosives must be at least 25 years old and "must be expatriates." Shift supervisors, who direct guard teams, must also be at least 25 and be fluent in reading and writing English.
The inspector general's report shows that government estimates of the total cost of replacing soldiers with contractors are hidden in public accounting. The report notes that government services provided to the private guard force -- food, housing and other benefits -- are not considered, only payments going directly to the contractors. The report estimated that such services provided to private security personnel in the 12 months ending in March cost "more than $250 million," at a time when listed outlays to the contractor firms in that period totaled $155 million.
In the new contracts, private contractors will continue to be allowed to use government dining facilities, living quarters, barber services, some transportation within Iraq and emergency medical care.
Another new contract, posted Sept. 3 for "Advisor & Atmospherics technical support services," calls for providing information to senior commanders of U.S. forces in Iraq to assist them "in gaining a deeper understanding of the many complex issues across Iraq." The aim is to provide "anecdotal information derived from varied native sources" so that commanders can become aware of "the Iraqi viewpoint of life in Iraq, the government of Iraq, U.S. forces, key events and other perceptions that are relevant to accomplishing the mission in Iraq."
This article, by Helena Cobban, was posted to Just World News, August 19, 2009
Pres. Obama gave a speech to the veterans of Foreign Wars annual convention on Monday in which he spelled out his view of the US's now-declining strategic stakes in Iraq and its continuing strategic stake in Afghanistan.
His words were considered and important.
On Iraq, he said,
In Iraq, after more than six years of war, we took an important step forward in June. We transferred control of all cities and towns to Iraq’s security services. The transition to full Iraqi responsibility for their own security is now underway...
But as we move forward, the Iraqi people must know that the United States will keep its commitments. And the American people must know that we will move forward with our strategy. We will begin removing our combat brigades from Iraq later this year. We will remove all our combat brigades by the end of next August. And we will remove all our troops from Iraq by the end of 2011. And for America, the Iraq war will end.
By moving forward in Iraq, we’re able to refocus on the war against al Qaeda and its extremist allies in Afghanistan and Pakistan....
From one viewpoint, of course, what the US military has been doing in Iraq has been moving back, not forward, despite all of Obama's uses of the term "forward".
It's forward, I suppose, if you understand that he means that the US has been proceeding with its commitments under the November 2008 Withdrawal Agreement. And his mention of the end-of-2011 deadline buttresses that interpretation.
Also, if he wants to describe-- for this presumably very nationalistic US audience-- this very necessary move out of Iraq as a move "forward", let him do so, I say.
And then, remembering what he has just said about Iraq, let's see what he said about Afghanistan. He described his administration's "new, comprehensive strategy" in Afghanistan in the following terms:
This strategy acknowledges that military power alone will not win this war—that we also need diplomacy and development and good governance. And our new strategy has a clear mission and defined goals—to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda and its extremist allies.
... These new efforts have not been without a price. The fighting has been fierce. More Americans have given their lives. And as always, the thoughts and prayers of every American are with those who make the ultimate sacrifice in our defense.
As I said when I announced this strategy, there will be more difficult days ahead...
But we must never forget. This is not a war of choice. This is a war of necessity. Those who attacked America on 9/11 are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans. So this is not only a war worth fighting. This is fundamental to the defense of our people.
Steve Walt had an excellent critique of Obama's "war of necessity/ al-Qaeda safe haven" claim on his FP blog yesterday.
I want to take a slightly different tack. I want, first, simply to point out a few important things; and then I want to get more deeply into launching a "Just War theory" critique of the whole US military venture in Afghanistan.
So, the prefatory points I want to make:
1. Obama has made a significant and good shift from Bush's rhetoric on Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Bush and his military commanders used to talk about "destroying" AQ and the Taliba. Obama is talking about "defeating" them. This is welcome and long overdue. British military doctrine has always been about "defeating" the enemy-- a goal that can be achieved in a number of different ways. Most US doctrine since the Cold War has been about "destroying" the enemy-- a doctrine that strengthens the tendency to "bring in the big battalions" and leads to a general over-reliance on the use of naked force.
2. So the rhetorical shift has been good. But let's look at the contrast between what Washington (under both Bush and Obama) has done in Iraq and what Obama is still proposing to do in Afghanistan. In Iraq, under the political cover provided by talk of "surges" and such, the US military essentially started out cutting deals with the former insurgents by the liberal use of the money weapon. Then, the Bush administration quickly cut a deal with the Baghdad government-- which drove a pretty hard bargain and insisted that instead of Washington getting the open-ended SOFA it sought all that it ended up getting was an occupation termination notice with the fixed endpoint for complete withdrawal of December 31, 2011.
And the vast majority of people in both Iraq and the US seem very happy with that outcome. In the US, I am truly not hearing any talk about the fear that AQI people or other malcontents might "come over here and kill us in our beds." Though of course, there is a distrust of Iraqis-- all Iraqis-- in this country these days that is both deep and very wide. (Hence the tight restrictions on bringing many of them except with the strongest of credentials into the US as refugees... ) But still, there is no public talk here that the US's retreat "moving forward" in Iraq will worsen the security situation of Americans either at home, or elsewhere. I think that's significant.
Indeed, there is even talk in the US of pulling out the troops even faster than the Withdrawal Agreement mandates-- which might fit in very well with the proposals reported out of Baghdad that the election they're holding next January should be accompanied by a referendum on getting rid of all the occupying US forces much faster than the WA stipulates, possibly "forthwith."
... So can someone remind me again why it is assumed that the buying-off, deal-cutting-- including with some extremely violent, hostile, and unsavory characters-- and speedy troop-exit strategy that has been working so (relatively) well in Iraq should not be tried in Afghanistan?
I really don't believe it is because the AQ/Taliban people in Afghanistan are that much worse than the AQI and other former "bad guys" in Iraq who all got rebranded and befriended as the "Sahwa".
And I certainly don't believe that it's because Afghanistan, as a country, is "more vital" to supposed US "national interests" than Iraq.
I do have a sneaky suspicion that the reason Obama feels obliged to "stand and fight" in Afghanistan is because, as a relatively honorable man, he feels obliged to make good on the promises he made in this regard during his election campaign... And he made them then because, while he had a long and consistent record of opposing the US invasion of Iraq and wanting to see a speedy US exit from there, he most likely thought he needed to "cover his rear end" with a presumably nationalist and fairly militaristic electorate by saying, "Well, we'll pull out of Iraq but step up the fight in Afghanistan."
Being honorable in terms of fulfilling campaign promises is on the face of it laudable. But letting the concerns of his own political reputation get in the way of his ability to make a cool calculation of what is really best for America's citizens (including the members of the volunteer military), and for the chronically war-stressed people of Afghanistan, is another matter altogether.
My view of the engagement in Afghanistan is that it is already a disaster and it's perched on the brink of yet worse disasters.
3. And that's not just my view. Rory Stewart argued back in November that "Afghanistan does not matter as much as Barack Obama thinks." Now, he seems to be likening Pres. Obama's Afghanistan policy to a driver headed for a cliff.
And he made this important observation on the practice whereby policymakers frequently "consult" outside experts, along the way:
“It’s like they’re coming in and saying to you, ‘I’m going to drive my car off a cliff. Should I or should I not wear a seatbelt?’ And you say, ‘I don’t think you should drive your car off the cliff.’ And they say, ‘No, no, that bit’s already been decided – the question is whether to wear a seatbelt.’ And you say, ‘Well, you might as well wear a seatbelt.’ And then they say, ‘We’ve consulted with policy expert Rory Stewart and he says ...’”
In that great FT interview, the plain-speaking and wise-ways-beyond-his-years Stewart also said:
“The [current US] policy of troop increases will look ridiculous in 30 years... They’re not going to make America safer from al-Qaeda. The theory of state-building is suspect. I’m not sure that the state they aim for is conceivable, let alone achievable. We should be pursuing a much more conventional development strategy in Afghanistan. And, if you want to combine that with a Special Forces unit that would make things uncomfortable for Osama bin Laden, then so be it.”
Except, of course, Bin Laden is far more likely to be in Pakistan these days than he is in Afghanistan, which raises another entire hornet's next of issues and concerns...
Well, as most of the reports and analysis on FP's new "AfPak channel" indicate, things really are not going well for the US in the region.
And now is, obviously, a particularly crucial time because Afghanistan is staging its national elections tomorrow. On the AfPak channel, even Kimberley Kagan, the usually ebullient cheerleader for the US military, tells us that "The Taliban are winning." (Peter Bergen apparently disagrees.)
And Gilles Dorronsoro reports from on the ground in Kunduz that, "There is no way to stop the Taliban if they want to attack polling stations and block the road. There are over 200 polling stations in Kunduz. A low turnout is to be expected from the Pashtun at least..."
So I really do think that it's a good time to take a step back and reapply the criteria of St. Augustine of Hippo's "Just War" theory to this whole US (mis-)adventure in Afghanistan.
Everyone who's been reading JWN a while will know I'm a Quaker, and therefore deeply convinced that all wars and all violence are both (a) wrong and (b) ineffective (or actively counter-productive) for securing real, lasting improvements in the human condition.
But whether I like it or not, the dominant philosophical/ethical tools that most westerners bring to bear on the question of whether any proposed military effort is justified are those derived from St. Augustine's early fifth century (CE) works articulating a theory of "Just War."
Okay, so maybe Augustine's work was a clear deformation, in some important ways, of the original, pacifist teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. But still, Augustine was operating from some solid understanding of the intrinsically inhumane nature of warfare (based on the wars that the newly Christianized Roman Empire had recently suffered from), as well as from a thorough understanding of Christian teachings. So what he says about the justifiability of war-making still has considerable resonance and relevance today.
Including in the continuing discussions of whether the US and its NATO allies really should continue their present, nearly eight-year-old war in Afghanistan, and if so, with what actual goal in mind.
I started to articulate some of these thoughts in a comment on this thread over at Registan yesterday. But then I thought this topic is one that deserves quite a lot more attention, so I'll start to give it some here.
The first thing to understand about JW theory is that, since it is based on Jesus's teachings, it is essentially very conservative in terms of when it says that any particular war is justified.
As most readers probably already know, classical JW theory has two major parts: Jus ad Bellum, or those justice/justifiability issues around the act of launching a war, and Jus in Bello, which are the justice issues around how a war may be fought. In the modern era, most Jus in Bello issues are pretty adequately covered by the whole body of international humanitarian law, also known as the laws of war, a body of treaty-based international law that has grown up over the past 160 years.
It is in the realm of Jus ad Bellum that international law is still silent. The states that negotiated the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court did insert into it a clause that criminalized international aggression. But they were quite unable to come to any agreement on the definition of the "Crime of Aggression", so that clause of the Treaty remains inactive pending this agreement being reached. Thus, as of now, Rome and the ICC deal only with what are, essentially, Jus in Bello issues and associated atrocities like genocide and crimes against humanity.
Since the "international community" of states has not come to any agreement on the Jus ad Bellum issues, for guidance on them we are left to look to the various faith and other philosophical traditions from around the world to provide guidance on when the launching of a war can be considered morally (as opposed to "legally") justifiable. And one of the most robust and most widely used of these traditions is still the Christian tradition of Just War.
(Interestingly, some of the US intellectuals who have done the most work exploring the implications of JW theory in modern times have been Jewish-- like Michael Walzer, or Jean Bethke Elshtain. So if they can deploy these essentially Augustinian concepts in their arguments, why can't I?)
Wikipedia has a pretty good entry on Just War theory, which lays out the seven criteria any proposed war must fulfill if it is to be considered just.
Now, I know we are not talking about launching a US/NATO war in Afghanistan at this point. But Pres. Obama has already launched a significant escalation of the war effort there, and in our country-- and in many other NATO countries-- there is now a growing debate over (a) What the actual objectives of the war effort are, and (b) What price is worth paying to gain these objectives.
So this does now sound very like a reprised Just ad Bellum discussion. And anyway, as I argued over at Registan, you should be prepared to have a Jus ad Bellum discussion at any point throughout the war, and not simply in the run-up to it.
You could think of this as an opportunity for a sort of mid-course moral-issues check-in. Now, this kind of a check-in is probably not something that it's appropriate or even feasible to ask fighting generals and their officers to engage in. But it certainly is something that the citizens of a democratic state that's waging a war should be prepared to do at any point throughout the war, since we do, actually, bear all the responsibility for the war's continuation and for any harms (or benefits) that it may inflict on humankind.
So anyway, here are the seven JW criteria, as described by Wikipedia (but numbered by me):
1. Just cause: The reason for going to war needs to be just and cannot therefore be solely for recapturing things taken or punishing people who have done wrong; innocent life must be in imminent danger and intervention must be to protect life. A contemporary view of just cause was expressed in 1993 when the US Catholic Conference said: "Force may be used only to correct a grave, public evil, i.e., aggression or massive violation of the basic human rights of whole populations."
2. Comparative justice: While there may be rights and wrongs on all sides of a conflict, to override the presumption against the use of force, the injustice suffered by one party must significantly outweigh that suffered by the other...
. Legitimate authority: Only duly constituted public authorities may wage war.
4. Right intention: Force may be used only in a truly just cause and solely for that purpose—correcting a suffered wrong is considered a right intention, while material gain or maintaining economies is not.
5. Probability of success: Arms may not be used in a futile cause or in a case where disproportionate measures are required to achieve success;
6. Last resort: Force may be used only after all peaceful and viable alternatives have been seriously tried and exhausted or are clearly not practical...
7. Proportionality: The anticipated benefits of waging a war must be proportionate to its expected evils or harms. This principle is also known as the principle of macro-proportionality, so as to distinguish it from the jus in bello principle of proportionality.
Now, these JW criteria clearly have a lot in common with the "Powell Doctrine"
Here's how Wikipedia describes the Powell Doctrine:
The Powell Doctrine states that a list of questions all have to be answered affirmatively before military action is taken by the United States:
1. Is a vital national security interest threatened?
2. Do we have a clear attainable objective?
3. Have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analyzed?
4. Have all other non-violent policy means been fully exhausted?
5. Is there a plausible exit strategy to avoid endless entanglement?
6. Have the consequences of our action been fully considered?
7. Is the action supported by the American people?
8. Do we have genuine broad international support?
... Powell has expanded upon the Doctrine, asserting that when a nation is engaging in war, every resource and tool should be used to achieve decisive force against the enemy, minimizing US casualties and ending the conflict quickly by forcing the weaker force to capitulate.
We could call this last addendum, "Criterion #9."
So you can almost immediately see the numerous similarities between individual criteria in the two checklists. Powell-9 is similar to the first half of JW-5. Powell-4 is almost exactly the same as JW-6... And so on.
At the broad macro-level, both theories are essentially conservative regarding when they conclude that waging a war would be indicated, though the grounds on which each set of criteria is based are very different: moral/theological reasoning versus a very utilitarian form of practical reasoning.
Both, however, it seems to me, are alike based on a thorough understanding that warfare is essentially harmful and inhumane-- and also, that it is essentially unpredictable, uncertain, and "foggy".
I think that was what really piqued my strong interest in the contributions that Andrew Exum (who has followed the Israeli interrogators' long-held habit of giving himself an "Abu" name: in his case, the ironic--or something-- "Abu Muqawama") has been making on this subject in recent days.
In a comment on that Registan post Exum wrote,
It’s a matter of determining how much Afghanistan is worth to us. I do not have the answer there, but I will say that I’ll be a lot more sympathetic to critiques of the war in 18 months time — if there is no positive movement — than I am now.
So what he's doing is admitting to current incertitude on the answer but saying, in effect, "So let's fight on for another 18 months and by that time I might have an answer for you."
I find this completely immoral. Exum served as a junior officer in, I think, Afghanistan, some years back. So I'm assuming he is well acquainted with (and I hope appropriately disturbed by) the harms that warfare inflicts on everyone who is in the war-zone, whether civilian or military.
So because he can't actually right now, figure out "how much Afghanistan is worth to us", he proposes that the US and its allies should fight on there for another 18 months so he can reach clarity on the matter. (You can see my response to him there if you scroll on down a bit.)
But it's in dealing with this question of lack of cognitive clarity on whether any particular war is worth fighting (or continuing to fight) that Augustine's (and Powell's) wisdom comes in.
Augustine, like Powell, knew that every war contains its own generally huge quota of cognitive fogginess. Hence the precautionary principle that he articulated. In the Wikipedia version, JW-5 is rendered as "Probability of success: Arms may not be used in a futile cause or in a case where disproportionate measures are required to achieve success." However, I think in the Augustinian original ithere was an even stronger application of the precautionary principle... something t the effect that, "Even if the casus belli seems compelling, you shouldn't launch a war unless you have a pretty strong certainty of winning."
This precautionary principle is, actually, rather similar to a combination of Powell-5 and Powell-9, with Powell-3 thrown in as an extra precaution, as well.
The justification for the precautionary principle here is that because war is by nature both (a) inhumane and (b) foggy regarding its course and its outcomes, then if you start a war where you have no clear and rationally understood chance of success, you risk getting drawn into a lengthy entanglement in which both your side and the other will, of necessity, be inflicting harm on other human persons... At which point the "compellingly just" nature of the casus belli for which you originally went to war itself become considerably muddied.
So Andrew Exum is currently unclear "how much Afghanistan is worth to us." (By the way, I join Registan's Joshua Foust in applauding Exum's frankness on this point.)
But given this lack of clarity, I think the only moral-- as well realistic-- thing to do is to apply the precautionary principle, rather than to advocate, as Exum does, that a further 18 months of fighting can make the answer clearer for him.
In my comment there, I described this as "reconnaissance by fire."
So at a policy level, what would application of the precautionary principle to the situation the US military faces in Afghanistan actually mean?
It would mean, first and foremost, that our president needs to start now exploring ways to move "forward" in Afghanistan in the same way we're doing it in Iraq, that is by getting out.
Yes, that exists as an option. Many, many other powers in the world would be happy to help a wise US president figure out how to do it.
All the other veto-wielding members of the Security Council's P-5 have strong stakes in Afghanistan-- two of them as fellow NATO members whose governments have a great fear of getting dragged down there; and two of them as neighbors or near neighbors of Afghanistan whose respective stakes in the stability of Afghanistan are, remember, exponentially stronger than the US's.
Most of the other neighbors of Afghanistan have similarly large stakes and would also be happy to help the US figure out how to withdraw.
And probably a large majority of the Afghan people would be happy to find a better way to rebuild their country than under the control of the hyper-armed and too often trigger-happy forces of NATO's culturally very distant countries.
So what are we Americans afraid of? What keeps us there? The fear of Al-Qaeda reconstituting its safe haven there if we leave? Really?
There are so many other ways to make sure that doesn't happen. Bring in JW-6.
This article, by Oliver August, was posted to Common Dreams, August 19, 2009
The US military plans to send thousands of American soldiers back to the oil-rich north of Iraq to prevent a civil war between Arabs and Kurds.
The emergency move, which partially reverses a recent drawing- down, is the first major sign that President Obama's withdrawal plan may not work. He wants all US combat troops out of Iraq within 12 months.
Kurdish and Arab leaders have agreed in principle to allowing US soldiers into unsettled areas around Mosul and Kirkuk, according to General Ray Odierno, the top US military commander in Iraq. The troops will form joint units with Iraqi counterparts to subdue what has become the most volatile part of the country.
Many leaders in the region disagree about where the border should run between their territories and how oil revenues should be shared. "We have al-Qaeda exploiting this fissure that you're seeing between the Arabs and the Kurds, and what we're trying to do is close that fissure, that seam," General Odierno said.
Despite the developments in Iraq President Obama told a group of US veterans in Phoenix yesterday that he will stick to his plan.
"As we move forward, the Iraqi people must know that the United States will keep its commitments," he said. "And the American people must know that we will move forward with our strategy. For America, the Iraq war will end."
The veterans did not applaud this line in his speech but he was given a warmer reception when he pledged to reform the procurement process so that troops have the best equipment possible.
There was laughter at his example of military waste - a billion- dollar helicopter that would allow the President to cook during a nuclear war: "If the United States is under nuclear attack, the last thing on my mind will be whipping up a snack," he said.
More than 100 people have been killed in mixed Arab-Kurdish areas this month, including car bombings that have destroyed villages near Mosul. Inside the city, armed men killed two policemen and wounded one civilian at a checkpoint yesterday.
"I'm still very confident in the overall security here," General Odierno said. "Unfortunately they're killing a lot of innocent civilians."
In yet another sign of how unstable the region is, the authorities have cancelled a census to determine the division of land and oil. It was feared that it would inflame tensions by revealing which side had the better chance of winning a referendum.
Ali Baban, the Planning Minister, said: "After hearing the fears, concerns and reservations of political groups in Kirkuk and Ninevah, we decided to slow down the process and the census has been postponed indefinitely."
The deployment of the US protection force will start in Ninevah province, which includes Mosul, and extend to Kirkuk. General Odierno discussed the plan, which appears necessary in military terms but unpopular with voters, with officials from Iraq and the Kurdish region on Sunday.
Nouri al-Maliki, the Prime Minister, is trying to win re-election in January on the back of a programme of security improvements.\
Under the plans drawn up by the US, control of the unstable areas would return to the Arab and Kurdish forces. The emergency move, however, has the potential to change the dynamic of the US withdrawal and it will almost certainly require a rewriting of a bilateral se
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 was posted to Yahoo News, August 12, 2009
As of Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2009, at least 4,332 members of the U.S. military had died in the Iraq war since it began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
The figure includes nine military civilians killed in action. At least 3,465 military personnel died as a result of hostile action, according to the military's numbers.
The AP count is three fewer than the Defense Department's tally, last updated Tuesday at 10 a.m. EDT.
The British military has reported 179 deaths; Italy, 33; Ukraine, 18; Poland, 21; Bulgaria, 13; Spain, 11; Denmark, seven; El Salvador, five; Slovakia, four; Latvia and Georgia, three each; Estonia, Netherlands, Thailand and Romania, two each; and Australia, Hungary, Kazakhstan and South Korea, one death each.
Since the start of U.S. military operations in Iraq, 31,463 U.S. service members have been wounded in hostile action, according to the Defense Department's weekly tally.
This article, by Qassim Abdul-Zahra, was posted to Yahoo News, August 12, 2009
BAGHDAD – The Iraqi government insisted that it's not up to the United States to negotiate over Iraq's security with Syria as a delegation from the Obama administration arrived Wednesday in Damascus.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will make his own trip to Syria next week to discuss security, the government said, calling the issue an internal Iraqi affair. U.S. and Iraqi officials have long been concerned about the infiltration of foreign fighters across the Syrian border.
"It is not the duty of the American delegation to negotiate on behalf of Iraq," spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh told The Associated Press. "It is the Iraqi government that will directly negotiate on security with Syria."
The remarks underscored emerging strains in the relationship between the Iraqis and the Americans as the balance of power shifts with the impending withdrawal of U.S. forces by the end of 2011. U.S. combat forces already turned over urban security to Iraqi forces on June 30, focusing their efforts on the borders and rural areas.
U.S. officials dismissed concerns about a rift over this week's talks in Damascus, which also were expected to deal with prospects for Mideast peacemaking.
"One of the issues that we continue to discuss with Syria is its efforts in terms of taking care of border issues on the Syrian side of the border," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said. "We have had concerns, going back a number of years, regarding the infiltration of foreign influences from the region through Syria into Iraq."
And, Crowley said, Iraq benefits from the effort to deal with the problem.
The mostly military delegation includes Frederic Hof, an assistant to George Mitchell, a former Senate Democratic leader who oversees U.S. Mideast peacemaking efforts. An earlier round of talks was held in June. Hof has been rumored to be in line for nomination as U.S. ambassador to Damascus. The post has been vacant for four years.
The talks are part of an acceleration of U.S. engagement with the Arab world and U.S. hopes that Syria can play a constructive role.
But Crowley said Tuesday that the infiltration of foreign fighters from Syria into Iraq would be "a significant topic of discussion."
U.S. and Iraqi officials have sought to shut down Sunni extremist networks that smuggle weapons and fighters through Iraq's northern desert to Mosul, where al-Qaida and other Sunni insurgents remain active.
American special forces staged a cross-border raid in October that Washington said killed the al-Qaida-linked head of a Syrian network that smuggled fighters, weapons and cash into Iraq. The operation outraged Syria, which claimed only civilians were killed.
The some 130,000 remaining U.S. troops face new limits on their actions in Iraq under a security pact that took effect on Jan. 1, and the Iraqi government has increasingly been asserting its sovereignty and reaching out to neighboring countries.
Al-Maliki's trip comes as violence has risen over the past week with a series of devastating bombings that have killed more than 120 people.
Gunmen also assassinated a senior Iraqi police officer late Tuesday as he was leaving a funeral in his hometown near Mosul, authorities said.
Brig. Gen. Abdul-Hamid Khalaf, a 55-year-old father of three, was an army officer under Saddam Hussein's regime but joined the police force amid efforts to rebuild the Iraqi security forces following the 2003 U.S. invasion.
He was a provincial police spokesman from 2005 to 2007, when he was promoted to be the deputy head of emergency battalions, and had survived at least one other attempt on his life.
The officer was killed by a gunman while walking home from a funeral service for a fellow officer who had died of natural causes in Zawiya, a mainly Sunni village and former al-Qaida in Iraq stronghold 45 miles (70 kilometers) south of Mosul, according to the area's police chief, Brig. Gen. Khalil al-Jubouri.
Elsewhere in northern Iraq, a roadside bomb killed a policeman and wounded five people Wednesday in the disputed oil-rich city of Kirkuk, police said. Three other policemen were later killed while dismantling a parked car bomb in the northern city.
A bomb attached to the car of an employee of a cell phone employee also exploded, killing him and seriously wounding a colleague in Mosul, according to the provincial police.
This article, by Prashant Rao, was posted to Yahoo News, July 31, 2009
BAGHDAD (AFP) – Britain's troop presence in Iraq formally concluded Friday, ending six years of controversial military involvement in the country that began with the US-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein.
Under a deal between Baghdad and London signed last year, the last of Britain's forces left this week ahead of the July 31 deadline for their withdrawal, a spokesman for the British Embassy in Baghdad told AFP.
A small contingent of around 100 naval trainers currently de-camped in Kuwait could return once Iraq's parliament has considered a new agreement between London and Baghdad. Parliament will reconvene in September.
"As our forces? existing permissions expire on July 31, we are now withdrawing the Royal Navy trainers while we discuss the position (of the new deal) with the Iraqi authorities," a spokesman for Britain's defence ministry said, adding that their departure was "unfortunate."
Friday's withdrawal deadline comes a day after Britain launched an inquiry into its role in the war. The probe will quiz key decision-makers, including ex-prime minister Tony Blair and be free to criticise government decisions.
Under Blair, Britain was a key ally of the United States when president George W. Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 to topple Saddam, in the belief he was developing weapons of mass destruction.
Britain's decision to take part was opposed from the start by a large part of the population including cabinet minister Robin Cook, whose prediction that WMDs would never be found proved correct.
London's troop numbers in the campaign were the second largest, peaking at 46,000 in March and April 2003 at the height of combat operations that resulted in the dictator's overthrow and eventual execution for crimes against humanity.
Britain last year decided to switch its military emphasis to the struggle against the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Baghdad and London signed a deal that all British soldiers in Iraq would withdraw completely by the end of July 2009 once they had completed their mission, which in recent months focused on training the Iraqi army.
The British embassy spokesman said the proposed deal for naval trainers to return has been endorsed by Iraq's cabinet and Britain will continue to offer training to Iraqi army officers as part of a NATO mission in the country and will provide training for Iraqi military personnel on courses in Britain.
The new agreement has faltered in parliament, however, as MPs loyal to radical Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr have repeatedly walked out of debates on the accord, ensuring the assembly failed to reach the quorum required for a vote.
If approved, it would allow around 100 British sailors and five naval vessels to remain in Iraq until next summer in a "non-renewable" deal, according to government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh
Since the 2003 invasion, 179 British soldiers have died in Iraq.
Most of Britain's troops were based in the predominantly Shiite southern port city of Basra.
Basra, Iraq's third-largest city and a strategic oil hub, had been under British command since the 2003 invasion, but the province and its airport returned to Iraqi control earlier this year.
As well as training its soldiers, Britain was instrumental in the rebirth of the Iraqi navy.
The withdrawal comes 50 years after Britain's previous exit from Iraq, in May 1959, when the last soldiers left Habbaniyah base near the western town of Fallujah, ending a presence that dated back to 1918.
It also comes a month after US forces pulled out of Iraq's towns and cities as part of a deal between Baghdad and Washington that calls for all American soldiers to leave Iraq by the end of 2011.