Obama to Speak Tonight on Troop Transition In Iraq -- Unclear Whether He’ll Give Bush Credit for 2008 Agreement on Troop Withdrawal

August 31, 2010 - 12:14 PM
Obama-Iraq exit

President Barack Obama announces that U.S. combat operations in Iraq will end on Aug. 31 in a speech to the Disabled American Veterans national convention in Atlanta on Monday, Aug. 2, 2010. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

(CNSNews.com) – President Barack Obama is scheduled to speak tonight about the drawdown of U.S. troops in Iraq to 50,000 and the transition of the troops remaining there from a combat mission to one of diplomacy. While the drawdown and transition were put in place by the Bush administration in 2008, it is not clear whether Obama will refer to that deal, known as the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA).
 
At an Aug. 2 convention of disabled veterans, Obama said he expected all combat troops to leave Iraq by Aug. 31. In mentioning that exit-date, Obama did not reference the troop-withdrawal timeline set by the SOFA.
 
The Status of Forces Agreement was signed by U.S. and Iraq officials on Nov. 16, 2008. The Iraqi parliament approved the deal on Nov. 27, 2008. President George W. Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki signed the agreement on Dec. 14, 2008. 
 
The agreement, which had been in negotiation since 2007, set a timetable calling for most U.S. troops to leave Iraqi towns and cities by June 30, 2009, with about 50,000 troops left in place until the final withdrawal of all U.S. military forces by Dec. 31, 2011.
 
“Today’s vote affirms the growth of Iraq’s democracy and increasing ability to secure itself,” President George W. Bush said of the Iraqi parliamentary vote, in a Nov. 27, 2008 statement. “Two years ago this day seemed unlikely. But the success of the surge and the courage of the Iraqi people set the conditions for these two agreements to be negotiated and approved by the Iraqi Parliament.”
 
At the convention for disabled veterans on Aug. 2, many of whom had served in Iraq, President Obama took credit for ending the war in Iraq.
 
“As a candidate for president, I pledged to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end,” Obama said.  “Shortly after taking office, I announced our new strategy for Iraq and for a transition to full Iraqi responsibility.”
 
“And I made it clear that by August 31st, 2010, America’s combat mission in Iraq would end,” Obama said. “And that is exactly what we are doing, as promised and on schedule.”

On Feb. 27, 2009, one month after taking office as president, in a speech at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, Obama said, "Let me say this as plainly as I can: By August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end."

President George W. Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki signed the Status of Forces Agreement on Dec. 14, 2008. (AP Photo)

On his campaign Web site, Organizing for America, however, it states that Obama would end the war “responsibly" within 16 months of assuming office, or by roughly May 20, 2010.

The Web site reads:  “Barack Obama will work with military commanders on the ground in Iraq and in consultation with the Iraqi government to end the war safely and responsibly within 16 months." 

A Dec. 2, 2008 article in the Christian Science Monitor reported that President-elect Obama told Iraqi officials he supported the SOFA.

“The security pact was the first such agreement since the invasion to outline specific terms for U.S. involvement in Iraq,” the article stated. “It was also the first in the region to be publicly debated and approved. Iraqi leaders backed the agreement after reassurances from President-elect Obama that his administration would not try to change the accord negotiated by the Bush administration.”
 
The “surge” by U.S. troops in Iraq was announced by President Bush in January 2007 and involved the deployment of more than 20,000 additional soldiers. By mid-June, the additional brigades were in place and the surge began, focusing on al-Qaeda, Sunni and Shia foes in Anbar, Baghdad, Babil and Diyala provinces.
 
By September, U.S. commander Gen. David Petraeus was able to report to Congress that “the military objectives of the surge are, in large measure, being met.”
 
At the time Bush announced the surge in January 2007, then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) said, “I personally indicated that an escalation of troop levels in Iraq was a mistake and that we need a political accommodation rather than a military approach to the sectarian violence there.”
 
Then, in January 2008, after Bush’s state of the Union Speech and when it was evident that the surge had been successful, Obama said, “Tonight we heard President Bush say that the surge in Iraq is working, when we know that's just not true.”
 
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who also opposed the surge, issued a statement on Aug. 2, 2010, giving Obama credit for ending the war in Iraq.
 
"America's brave men and women in uniform have done everything that has been asked of them in the war in Iraq; they have performed excellently,” Pelosi said. “Soon, our nation will begin a new chapter in this effort, ending combat operations on the schedule President Obama promised.” 
 
But in February 2008, Pelosi said Bush’s military strategy in Iraq had failed.
 
“The purpose of the surge was to create a secure time for the government of Iraq to make the political change to bring reconciliation to Iraq,” Pelosi said on CNN’s “Late Edition.” “They have not done that.” 
 
In his Aug. 2 remarks, Obama praised the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, which will finally end, according to the SOFA agreement, on Dec. 31, 2011.
 
“Already, we have closed or turned over to Iraq hundreds of bases,” Obama said. “We’re moving out millions of pieces of equipment in one of the largest logistics operations that we’ve seen in decades.”
 
“By the end of this month, we’ll have brought more than 90,000 of our troops home from Iraq since I took office – more than 90,000 have come home,” Obama said