The talks foundered largely over Iraqi opposition to granting immunity from prosecution for American troops who would remain. President Obama announced Friday that the last U.S. troops would be home by the end of the year, signaling an official close to one of the most divisive conflicts in U.S. history.
Republicans argued that keeping some U.S. troops in Iraq would help preserve still-fragile security gains, enable continued training of Iraqi forces, help prevent a resurgence of sectarian and ethnic violence and serve as a deterrent to Iran, which has sought influence in the country by supplying weapons and training to Shiite militant groups.
Mitt Romney, a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, condemned the move, arguing in a statement that it “unnecessarily put at risk the victories that were won through the blood and sacrifice of thousands of American men and women.”
However, many Republicans appeared to temper their criticism, cognizant that polls suggest there is low public support for a continuing U.S. troop presence in Iraq.
Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon (R-Calif.), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said he was “concerned” about the decision since “multiple experts have testified before my committee that the Iraqis still lack important capacities in their ability to maintain their internal stability and territorial integrity.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said, “I respectfully disagree with President Obama. I feel all we have worked for, fought for and sacrificed for is very much in jeopardy by today’s announcement. I hope I am wrong and the president is right, but I fear this decision has set in motion events that will come back to haunt our country.”
Obama held out the possibility of further talks with Iraq on continuing U.S military assistance, noting that he had invited Prime Minister Nouri Maliki to Washington in December.
“As I told Prime Minister Maliki, we will continue discussions on how we might help Iraq train and equip its forces --again, just as we offer training and assistance to countries around the world,” Obama said.
-- David S. Cloud
Photo: Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks during an economic roundtable at the Treynor State Bank in Treynor, Iowa. Credit: Charlie Neibergall / Associated Press