Wicker Says U.S. Is Still Key to Iraq’s Stability

Work remains to complete mission

At the end of this month, the U.S. combat mission in Iraq will end after almost seven and a half years. I am glad to see many of our troops returning home, and I pray for the men and women moving on to fight for us in Afghanistan. Our troops have performed courageously, and their bravery and devotion paved the way for much progress in Iraq. However, as General David Petraeus recently said, “the final chapter in Iraq’s history has not yet been written.”

The Military and Diplomatic Success in Iraq

The U.S. cannot and should not stay in Iraq forever. That was never the plan. Under President George W. Bush, the U.S. negotiated the Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq in 2008, establishing a goal for the removal of U.S. troops by the end of 2011. Some in Congress criticized the administration for the troop surge, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid who said, “this war is lost… the surge is not accomplishing anything.” It was the success of the surge ordered by President Bush in 2007, however, that enabled the U.S. to negotiate the agreement to draw down troops in 2011.

The troop surge was not the only action that helped strengthen the partnership between the U.S. and Iraq. In a recent article in The National Interest, Ambassador Ryan Crocker said the following about U.S. efforts in 2007:

“But the surge was not the only strategy that helped to bring calm. We were engaged at all levels—political, economic and diplomatic. My colleagues and I spent countless hours with Iraqi political figures throughout the country, working to find compromises, suggesting alternatives, even providing drafts. We were in the backrooms and on the floor of the assembly at key moments. For some time to come, we will remain the indispensable partner.”

Challenges Remain

Despite the progress we have made in Iraq, significant challenges remain. On Tuesday, August 17, over 50 Iraqis died in a suicide attack on an Army recruiting center in Baghdad. This was one of the bloodiest attacks in Iraq this year. Such attacks are likely attempts by our enemies to claim responsibility for our withdrawal.

Another challenge is the political progress in Iraq, which has been developing slower than many would have liked. The Iraq elections in March were a key development in the country’s pursuit of stability and peace, but unfortunately those elections were inconclusive. Nearly six months later, a new government has not been formed. Some say sectarian tensions are rising as political parties jostle for power and regional states compete for leverage and influence inside Iraq. All of this comes at a critical time when our combat mission is concluding. By the end of this month, we will still have approximately 50,000 troops in Iraq. I am concerned of the potential implications that a swift troop withdrawal may have on Iraq’s ability to overcome the latest obstacles to its stability. I sincerely hope that the pace of troop withdrawals has been determined solely by military conditions on the ground in Iraq and not by political considerations here in the U.S.

Completing the Mission

In the coming months, President Obama should act prudently to ensure that the hard-won gains of the U.S. surge policy, and the heroic efforts of our troops and diplomats since then, are not lost. The U.S. forces that remain in Iraq will continue to face danger whether or not they are combat troops. Our thousands of non-combatant personnel, who will serve an even greater role in Iraq as our military draws down, will face danger as well. These American troops and diplomats deserve our continued support. As our efforts and focus increase in Afghanistan, it is important that we not turn our backs on Iraq. We should honor the sacrifices of those who served in Iraq and not abandon our efforts and the progress we have made.

It is important that the Iraqi people have the support and assistance they need to stand on their own. I greatly respect Ambassador Crocker and admire what he was able to accomplish during his tenure in Iraq. While recognizing that Iraqis must solve Iraqi problems, I hope our new ambassador, James Jeffrey, will engage in the type of direct diplomacy demonstrated by Ambassador Crocker. Our continued assistance will be required to help the Iraqi people write this next chapter in their history and complete their transition to stability and democracy.