Secretary of State Rex Tillerson vowed the U.S. will remain in Iraq to fight the Islamic State whether the central government wants them there or not, in a Monday evening testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“We will remain in Iraq until ISIS is defeated and we are confident that ISIS has been defeated,” Tillerson declared, however, noting that Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi “has given to me no indication he is in any particular hurry to have us depart.”
The secretary’s remark echoes long standing criticism of former President Barack Obama for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq until 2011, including from President Donald Trump. The withdrawal is thought by many experts to have facilitated the rise of ISIS in the first place prompting a renewed U.S. mission in Iraq in 2014.
The rise of ISIS hinges on a status of forces agreement signed by the Bush administration in 2008 that expired in 2011. Obama and his defenders say they could not re-negotiate the terms of the agreement despite their best efforts and bent to the will of the Iraqi government at the time.
Experts who served in Iraq at the time, along with several members of Obama’s own National Security Council, dispute the idea that a SOFA could not be renegotiated based on the situation on the ground at the time.
Obama’s own former CIA director and Secretary of Defense revealed after his time in government that “it was clear to me — and many others — that withdrawing all our forces would endanger the fragile stability” adding that The White House “never led” the negotiations.
U.S. withdrawal from Iraq led to the Iraqi government purging the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) of Sunni leadership, inflaming sectarian tensions with the large Sunni population in Anbar province. These actions resulted in the isolation of Sunnis, which subsidized the demoralization and corruption of the ISF.
Inflamed sectarian tensions made Anbar province, previously inhospitable to Al Qaeda in Iraq, a sanctuary for the then-defeated terrorist organization. When ISIS stormed the city of Mosul in 2014, long-neglected Iraqi brigades dropped their weapons and fled, eventually prompting a renewed U.S. military presence in Iraq that continues today.
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