In late 2008, the lame duck Bush Administration signed a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the Iraqi government formalizing the continuation of the occupation through the end of 2011. At the time this was being negotiated, multiple presidential candidates, including eventual victor President Obama, were openly talking about ending the war far sooner. It seemed that the December 2011 date was an absolute worst-case scenario.
But time has a way of creeping up on you, and officials have a way of lying about their intentions, particularly when it might involve ending an occupation. To that end, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has informed Congress that the Obama Administration wants to continue the occupation of Iraq beyond 2011.
“There is certainly on our part an interest in having an additional presence,” Gates has confirmed in the wake of repeated claims to the contrary by top officials and insistences that December would be the end.
Gates went on to insist Iraq “will face problems” if they don’t allow the US forces to remain, and that the Iraqis ‘won’t be able to protect their own airspace,” an obvious reference to Iraq’s Monday announcement that they will shelve a $3 billion purchase of US warplanes to buy food.
Though a number of US officials have expressed eagerness to continue the occupation, it is unclear where the Iraqi government stands. Prime Minister Maliki has insisted he will hold the US to the deadline, and if he doesn’t he will likely face a revolt from some of his allies, notably cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, but when the US wants to continue its military presence they tend to find a way to make that happen.