The awkward process of withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq was underscored by the violence and confusion during Vice President Joe Biden's visit to the country this week.
With U.S. troops set to leave the country by the end of the month, it's Biden's job to present the impending draw down as a result of major tactical accomplishments by U.S. and Iraqi forces. "We are now able to end this war," Biden told soldiers at Camp Victory Thursday. "I think it's fair to say, almost no one thought that was possible a few years ago." But as Foreign Policy's Josh Rogin reported, the Obama administration tried earnestly to forge a deal to keep combat troops in Iraq beyond Dec. 31 2011. The deal ultimately fell apart because of Iraq's refusal to grant U.S. soldiers immunity from Iraqi courts. So the job now is to spin the withdrawal as a happy development, which is no easy task.
At Thursday's ceremony, Biden thanked U.S. and Iraqi troops for their efforts in the nine-year war, saying "Because of you and the work that those of you in uniform have done, we are now able to end this war." But, as CNN's Martin Savage reports, U.S. officials and Iraqis were confused about what they were actually there to celebrate. "The Iraqis say this was a ceremony to commemorate the departure and withdrawal of U.S. forces in Iraq. Talk to the U.S. military and they say—oh no—that's not what this ceremony is about. This ceremony is about dedicating or commemorating the sacrifice that has been made by both U.S. forces and Iraqi forces bringing this country to where it is today."
Putting a grimmer note on the ceremony, the event coincided with a marketplace car bombing and an assault on the house of an anti-Al Qaeda militia leader, according to The Associated Press. "A parked car bomb exploded in the town of Khalis as morning shoppers were starting to arrive, killing 10 persons and wounding 22 others," reports the wire service. "Also in Diyala, gunmen stormed the home of an anti-al Qaeda Sunni fighter at dawn and killed seven people, police said." The victims included a local pro-government leader and six members of his family.
Meanwhile, the Aswat al-Iraq news agency reports that some 200 Iraqi Shiites have been staging protests of Biden's visits and shouting "No, No for America" and other anti-American slogans. "The Sadrist Trend, led by the young Shiite Clergyman, Muqtada al-Sadr, had called for demonstrations all over Iraq today, in protest to the visit by US Vice-President, Joe Biden, to Iraq, considering the visit as an 'interference in Iraq's internal affairs.'"
Perhaps the greatest indicator of the anticlimactic mood was the U.S. military press office's closure yesterday in Iraq, which The New York Times reported. "With a short e-mail, the United States military press office in Baghdad press released itself out of existence. The announcement on Wednesday was a model of brevity. Of clarity, not so much." The final release read:
This email is to inform you that as of today, 30 Nov. the J9 USF-I Media Operations Center will cease operations. Due to our reposture efforts the press desk function will no longer provide releases or
“For RTQ’s please contact the Embassy Public Affairs section.”
Even to the Times' seasoned war reporters, the e-mail's strange jargon (RTQ?) warranted an explanation, which even some military officials trained in "J9," the military's section dealing with communications, couldn't answer. "It fell to Col. Barry Johnson, a spokesman for the American forces in Iraq, to provide the missing R to the Q." Unlike many open-ended questions in Iraq, this one turned out to be rather simple. “Responses to Queries,” he responded.