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A key question is what options the Obama Administration might consider if security in Iraq deteriorates as the United States reduces its military and political involvement there. (45)
Iraq Study Group Report
The Iraq Study Group report, produced in late 2006, was seen by some as offering recommendations that were later adopted and assisted policy formation. Among the most significant of the 79 recommendations, some of which were discussed previously and many of which came to be adopted by the Bush Administration, are the following: (46)
* Transition from U.S.-led combat to Iraqi security self-reliance (Recommendations 40-45), with continued U.S. combat against AQ-I, force protection, and training and equipping the ISF. The "troop surge" strategy rejected an early transition to ISF-led combat, but the Bush Administration noted that the Iraq Study Group expressed support for a temporary surge. (47)
* Heightened regional and international diplomacy, including with Iran and Syria, and including the holding of a major international conference in Baghdad (Recommendations 1-12). After appearing to reject this recommendation, the Bush Administration later backed a regional diplomatic process, as discussed.
* As part of an international approach, renewed commitment to Arab-Israeli peace (Recommendations 13-17). This was not a major feature of President Bush's 2007 Iraq plan, although he later stepped up U.S. diplomacy on that issue.
* Additional economic, political, and military support for the stabilization of Afghanistan (Recommendation 18). This was not specified in President Bush's Iraq plan, although, separately, there were increases in U.S. troops and aid for Afghanistan. The Obama Administration has placed significant weight on this recommendation. (See CRS Report RL30588, Afghanistan: Post-Taliban Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy, by Kenneth Katzman.)
* Setting benchmarks for the Iraqi government to achieve political reconciliation, security, and governance, including possibly withholding some U.S. support if the Iraqi government refuses or fails to do so (Recommendations 19-37). The Bush Administration at first opposed reducing support for the Iraqi government if it failed to uphold commitments, but President Bush signed P.L. 110-28, which linked U.S. economic aid to progress on the benchmarks.
* Giving greater control over police and police commando units to the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, which is considered less sectarian than the Ministry of Interior that controls these forces (Recommendations 50-61). These recommendations were not adopted.
* Securing and expanding Iraq's oil sector (Recommendations 62-63). The United States has consistently prodded Iraq to pass the pending oil laws, which would encourage foreign investment in Iraq's energy sector.
* Increasing economic aid to Iraq and enlisting more international donations of assistance (Recommendations 64-67). President Bush's 2007 security plan increased aid, as discussed above, although U.S. aid is now being reduced because of improved Iraqi financial capabilities.
In the 110th Congress, an amendment to H.R. 2764, the FY2008 foreign aid bill, would have revived the Iraq Study Group (providing $1 million for its operations) to help assess future policy after the "troop surge." The provision was not incorporated into the Consolidated appropriation (P.L. 110-161). In the Senate, some Senators from both parties in June 2007 proposed legislation (S. 1545) to adopt the recommendations of the Group as U.S. policy.
Further Options: Altering Troop Levels or Mission
The sections below discuss options that have been under discussion even before the report of the Iraq Study Group, the troop surge, or the recently completed U.S. presidential campaign.
Further Troop Increase
Some argued that the "surge" was too limited--concentrated mainly in Baghdad and Anbar--and that the United States should have increased troops levels in Iraq even further to prevent Sunni insurgents from re-infiltrating cleared areas. This option faded during 2008 because of progress produced by the surge, and virtually no expert or official argues for this option at this time. However, some believe President Obama might revisit this question if security deteriorates sharply as U.S. troops in Iraq thin out, although others believe that the United States is not likely to send additional troops to Iraq once a major drawdown has begun in earnest.
Immediate and Complete Withdrawal
The Bush Administration consistently opposed this option, arguing that the ISF were not ready to secure Iraq alone and that doing so would result in full-scale civil war, possible collapse of the elected Iraqi government, revival of AQ-I activities, emboldening of Al Qaeda more generally, and increased involvement of regional powers in the fighting in Iraq. Supporters of the Bush Administration position said that Al Qaeda terrorists might "follow us home"--conduct attacks in the United States--if there were a rapid withdrawal.
Those who advocated rapid withdrawal maintained that the decision to invade Iraq was a mistake, that the large U.S. presence in Iraq could reignite the insurgency, and that U.S. forces are still policing a civil war. Those who supported an immediate withdrawal include most of the approximately 70 Members of the "Out of Iraq Congressional Caucus," formed in June 2005. Some Members of this group have criticized the Obama draw-down plan as too slow, and questioned why as many as 50,000 U.S. forces would remain after August 2010.
In the 109th Congress, Representative John Murtha, ranking member (now chairman) of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, introduced a resolution (H.J.Res. 73) calling for a U.S. withdrawal "at the earliest practicable date" and the maintenance of an "over the horizon" U.S. presence, mostly in Kuwait, from which U.S. forces could continue to battle AQ-I. A related resolution, H.Res. 571, expressed the sense "that the deployment of U.S. forces in Iraq be terminated immediately;" it failed 403-3 on November 18, 2005. Representative Murtha introduced a similar bill in the 110th Congress (H.J.Res. 18).
The Bush Administration had long opposed mandating a withdrawal timetable on the grounds that doing so would allow insurgents to "wait out" a U.S. withdrawal. The Iraq Study Group suggested winding down of the U.S. combat mission by early 2008 but did not recommend a firm timetable. Forms of this option exhibited some support in Congress. Iraqi leaders also long opposed a timetable, but their growing confidence caused Maliki to negotiate a relatively firm withdrawal timetable in the Security Agreement.
Various legislation to require a U.S. withdrawal timetable did not become law. A binding provision of an FY2007 supplemental appropriations legislation (H.R. 1591) required the president, as a condition of maintaining U.S. forces in Iraq, to certify (by July 1, 2007) that Iraq had made progress toward several political reconciliation benchmarks, and by October 1, 2007 that the benchmarks have been met. Even if the requirements were met, the amendment would require the start of a redeployment from Iraq by March 1, 2008, to be completed by September 1, 2008. The bill passed the House on March 23, 2007. The Senate-passed version of H.R. 1591 set a non-binding goal for U.S. withdrawal of March 1, 2008. The conference report retained the benchmark certification requirement and the same dates for the start of a withdrawal but made the completion of any withdrawal (by March 31, 2008, not September 1, 2008) a goal rather than a firm deadline. President Bush vetoed the conference report on May 1, 2007, and the veto was sustained. The revised provision in the FY2007 supplemental (P.L. 110-28) is discussed above. A House bill, (H.R. 2956), which mandated a beginning of withdrawal within 120 days and completion by April 1, 2008, was adopted on July 12, 2007 by a vote of 223-201. A proposed amendment (S.Amdt. 2087) to H.R. 1585 contained a similar provision.
On November 13, 2007, some in Congress revived the idea, in an FY2008 supplemental appropriation (H.R. 4156), of setting a target date (December 15, 2008) for completion of a U.S. withdrawal, except for force protection and "counter-terrorism" operations. The bill passed the House but cloture was not invoked in the Senate. The debate over a timetable for withdrawal continued in consideration of an FY2008 supplemental appropriation, but was not included in the enacted version (P.L. 110-252).
In the 109th Congress, the timetable issue was debated extensively. In November 2005, Senator Levin introduced an amendment to S. 1042 (FY2006 defense authorization bill) to compel the Administration to work on a timetable for withdrawal during 2006. Then-Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee John Warner subsequently submitted a related amendment that stopped short of setting a timetable for withdrawal but required an Administration report on a "schedule for meeting conditions" that could permit a U.S. withdrawal. That measure, which also stated in its preamble that "2006 should be a period of significant transition to full Iraqi sovereignty," achieved bi-partisan support, passing 79-19. It was incorporated, with only slight modifications by House conferees, in the conference report on the bill (H.Rept. 109-360, P.L. 109-163). On June 22, 2006, the Senate debated two Iraq-related amendments to an FY2007 defense authorization bill (S. 2766). One, offered by Senator Kerry, setting a July 1, 2007, deadline for U.S. redeployment from Iraq, was defeated 86-13. Another, sponsored by Senator Levin, called on the Administration to begin redeployment out of Iraq by the end of 2006, but with no deadline for full withdrawal. It was defeated 60-39.
Troop Mission Change
Some have long argued that the United States should not be policing Iraqi cities and should instead scale back its mission to: (1) operations against AQ-I; (2) an end to active patrolling of Iraqi streets; (3) force protection; and (4) training the ISF. This option appears to be encapsulated in President Obama's announcement of February 27, 2009.
In mid-2008, the previous U.S. Administration had judged that security conditions had improved to the point where the U.S. mission could be reduced gradually to an "overwatch" posture focused on supporting and training Iraqi forces rather than taking the lead on combat operations. The mission change idea was incorporated into the Security Agreement, which requires U.S. forces to pull out of Iraqi urban areas by June 30, 2009. A change of mission was proposed by several Senators for consideration of the FY2008 defense authorization (H.R. 1585), but was not in the conference report on the bill.
Planning for Withdrawal
In 2007, some Members maintained that the Bush Administration should plan for a withdrawal if one were decided. Bush Administration officials said they would not publicly discuss the existence or form of such planning because doing so would undermine current policy. However, Secretary of Defense Gates toured facilities in Kuwait in August 2007 in what was reported as an effort to become familiar with the capabilities of the U.S. military to carry out a redeployment. Then Senator Hillary Clinton reportedly was briefed on August 2, 2007 by Defense Department officials on the status of planning for a withdrawal, and she later introduced legislation on August 2, 2007 (S. 1950), to require contingency planning for withdrawal. In the House, H.R. 3087 (passed by the House on October 2, 2007 by a vote of 377-46) would have required the Administration to give Congress a plan for redeployment from Iraq.
Requiring More Time Between Deployments
Some Members who favored a U.S. draw-down did so on the grounds that the Iraq effort was placing too much strain on the U.S. military. A Senate amendment to H.R. 1585, requiring more time between deployments to Iraq, was not agreed to on September 19, 2007 because it only received 56 …