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Why America Won't Really Leave Iraq

 

After nearly a decade of costly intervention, President Barack Obama has finally declared that the Iraq War has come to an end. But the extent of the “end” is not fully known, as details begin to emerge about the continued U.S. presence in the region, and fears remain about Al-Qaeda in Iraq.

The administration’s plan to replace military troops with a smaller private contracting army, led by the State Department, may not be the most effective way to stay relevant in Iraq, but it is a necessary step for the Obama administration to take. It is time for Iraq to take the lead in its development and for America to divest itself from the costly struggle. Obama made the right decision pulling out the troops while leaving enough resources in the country and the region to protect American foreign policy interests. 

The “end” of the Iraq War has come as a relief to many in the United States who are happy to hear the president’s announcement of an end to a war that has incurred heavy financial and human costs. Obama’s true intentions for Iraq are hard to decipher, as the complete pullout of American troops is largely due to a breakdown in negotiations regarding the legal status of American forces, which would have paved the way for a residual force to be left in the country.

Despite a total troop pullout, the U.S. is leaving behind a small army of private contractors. It is estimated that there will be 5,000 security contractors under control of the largest U.S. embassy in the world. This transition of authority to the State Department is a unique new chapter in American foreign policy and even though transition may be rough, it is still a necessary step for Iraq’s independence.

The U.S. will continue to exert its influence over the region – an influence that will have direct consequences for the future of Iraq. Details are emerging that indicate a larger military presence in the region is wanted by both the Pentagon and the Obama administration. This desire follows continued negotiations by the Iraqi government to keep military trainers in Iraq, as well as renewed commitments from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to stand by Iraq and its common security interests. While Iraq must take charge of its future, America is wisely hedging its bets on the power structure of the Middle East that it has influenced so greatly.

At first glance, news of substantial U.S. involvement in Iraq may be troubling, but the absence of military troops in Iraq accomplishes two goals that are advantageous for the Obama administration. First, the White House can claim a foreign policy victory by “ending” the Iraq War. Second, Obama can maintain leverage in the region without the fervent opposition that came from the troop presence in Iraq.

Iraq has been a grand investment of American resources and a continued, albeit smaller, presence will provide a counterbalance to the growing threat that Iran poses to American security interests. While some may argue against any American involvement in the region, it is not in America’s interests to abandon the Middle East entirely and let radical extremism flourish in the region unchecked.

While the Iraq War may be over, American influence will continue to shape the country and the region, as Obama strives to protect America’s long-term foreign policy interests.

Photo Credit: The U.S. Army

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