Small Wars Journal

The 2011 U.S. Withdrawal from Iraq: Relevance for Syria Today

The 2011 U.S. Withdrawal from Iraq: Relevance for Syria Today by James Jeffrey - The Cipher Brief

Following the near destruction of ISIS in Iraq and in the U.S. “zone” in northeastern Syria, and then a call recently by President Donald Trump to pull out of Syria, administration officials, pundits and foreign leaders have all urged the president to keep troops in Syria. As justification, these officials—including Secretary James Mattis—often cite deleterious effects of the U.S. troop pullout from Iraq in 2011, including the breakdown of the Iraqi political system and ISIS’s 2014 sweep of Sunni Arab areas.

But such analogies, even when true, need context. President Bush agreed with Iraq in 2008 to withdraw U.S. troops by December 2011. But President Obama then sought a residual training/advisory presence of 5,000 troops post-2011, not for combat missions but in part for political motives with Iraq and regional states.  Such “presence missions,” even if not primarily combat-oriented, are common political tools, e.g., U.S. naval presence in the Gulf, U.S. battalion in the Sinai. In the end, however, the Iraqi parliament balked at legal immunities for U.S. soldiers, and troops had to be withdrawn in accordance with the 2008 agreement. Then Iraq fell apart.

In considering the “Syria today” analogy, it is important to note that a post-2011 U.S. Iraq presence could not, as some imagined, have had the same impact on Iraqi internal governance and security as did 100,000 plus American combat troops 2003-9…

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