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Debate: Withdrawing from Iraq

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Should the USA and its allies withdraw their forces from Iraq immediately?

This article is based on a Debatabase entry written by Alastair Endersby. Because this document can be modified by any registered user of this site, its contents should be cited with care.


Background and Context of Debate:

Following the March 2003 invasion of Iraq by a US-led coalition, the regime of Saddam Hussein rapidly collapsed and the invaders took control of the country. For the first year of occupation the Coalition Provisional Authority exercised power from Baghdad and the old Baathist structures of government, policing and armed forces were quickly swept away. Despite the rapid victory, with relatively few casualties among coalition forces, resistance continued, especially in the Sunni-dominated central provinces. Those actively opposed to the occupation ("insurgents" to the coalition) appear to have a variety of motives, including loyalty to the former regime, fear among the minority Sunnis of Shia and Kurdish domination, hatred for America (which seems to have drawn in many fighters from other Muslim countries), and resistance to foreign occupation among Shia elements of the population. Violence in Iraq has continued even after the Coalition Provisional Authority handed over sovereignty to an interim Iraqi government in June 2004, and after elections and a constitutional referendum were held in 2005. Despite the presence of an elected government in Baghdad now, it relies heavily upon the coalition for security and is far from able to control the whole country. Insurgents have made use of terror tactics such as suicide bombs and attacks on civilians, especially those associated with the new regime. This has led to over 2200 deaths of coalition servicemen and women (including nearly 2100 Americans and 100 British soldiers), but many thousand more Iraqis have also died in daily violence. The lack of success in pacifying and rebuilding the country, together with the continuing death toll, has increasingly led to calls for coalition troops to withdraw. The Coalition is dominated by the USA (c160 000 troops in Iraq in November 2005), with other substantial contingents from the UK (8600), Poland, South Korea, Australia, Japan, Romania, and Italy. Overall 27 nations are still in Iraq in November 2005, but many of these have only very small teams, perhaps of non-combatant specialists involved in reconstruction or training. Countries such as the Netherlands, Ukraine and Spain have already withdrawn their troops, and Poland and Italy are committed to at least substantial reductions in the next few months. This topic considers whether the coalition forces of America and its allies should withdraw immediately from Iraq. The arguments focus on whether the coalition troops (overwhelmingly American) as a whole should leave Iraq, but they could easily be adapted for a debate specific to an individual country (e.g. Should the UK [or Poland or Australia or Italy] unilaterally withdraw its forces from Iraq?). The Proposition will also need to consider what they mean by "immediately" - it is clearly unrealistic to expect all the foreign forces in Iraq to be able to get out within 24 hours. On the other hand, immediately carries a sense of urgency, and should contrast sharply with the various vague proposals of coalition governments that they might be able to withdraw some of their troops in the course of 2006, or that a timetable for doing so should be provided. One suggestion might be that all forces should be withdrawn within three months at the outside.

Argument #1


America and its allies should never have invaded Iraq in the first place. Claims that Saddam Hussein was linked to Al-Qaeda, and that he possessed weapons of mass destruction have both turned out to be incorrect at best, lies at worse. The war was an illegal act of aggression, without United Nations sanction, and the occupation is therefore also illegal. For this reason alone the coalition should remove its forces from Iraq as soon as possible. Also important, however, is the evidence of opinion polls in Iraq that show that most Iraqis also want foreign troops out immediately so that they can regain sovereignty in their own country.


The Iraq war was fully justified, both in advance and by the events. Saddam Hussein's brutal regime did pose a threat to regional stability and to its own people. Invasion was legal as Saddam was in breach of UN resolutions requiring him to cooperate with arms and nuclear inspectors. Whether he actually had weapons of mass destruction is irrelevant - he acted to obstruct and deceive inspectors. The evidence suggests that if sanctions had been lifted, he would soon have restarted WMD programmes. Certainly he would have continued repressing his people. Who can argue that Iraq and the world would be better today if Saddam was still in power? Only a few die-hard Baathists and foreign terrorists, who continue to oppose the creation of a new Iraq. The job we started in 2003 still isn't finished while they threaten security and reconstruction efforts. By staying in Iraq under a UN Security Council mandate while a fully functioning democratic state is established, we are safeguarding the brighter future we promised the Iraqi people in 2003. And we are there because the elected Iraqi government wishes us to stay until they are able to exercise effective control of the country unaided. Now is not the time to cut and run.

Argument #2


Every day in Iraq American and allied soldiers are killed by insurgents. The death toll of US forces since the invasion is now over 2000, and monthly casualty figures are not dropping. Poll show that many, perhaps most Iraqis sympathise with attacks on coalition forces, so allied deaths are likely to continue. Saddam is in jail, WMD have not been found and Iraq is no longer a threat to the region. Why then can't we declare victory and go home before more of our troops are killed unnecessarily?


By withdrawing we would be giving into the terrorists. It is a tragedy that so many American and allied soldiers have lost their lives in Iraq, but their sacrifice will be meaningless if we cut and run now. Leaving Iraq ahead of time would show the terrorists that we are weak, and only encourage them to use the same evil methods elsewhere. Our allies too will be discouraged and take the message that the USA is not a reliable friend. Instead of running, we have to confront and overcome the terrorists in Iraq, sending a message that we are determined, and are prepared to persevere in the face of hardship for a noble cause.

Argument #3


Far from being able to stop the violence in Iraq, the occupying forces are the cause of the violence. Iraqis of very different political and religious backgrounds are only united in their hatred of the invaders, and the presence of American occupiers has drawn in thousands of foreign fighters. Outrage at foreign occupation has been multiplied by brutal American tactics, from the use of degrading torture at Abu Ghraib to the recent discovery that phosphorus weapons were used against civilians in Fallujah, and including the regular shooting of men, women and children in vehicles by American soldiers at roadblocks. Between 30 000 and 100 000 Iraqi civilians are dead as a result of the invasion and occupation. Is it any wonder the coalition is detested and attacked? If the coalition forces withdrew, most of the violence would stop very quickly.


If coalition forces withdraw too early, there is a real danger that Iraq will fall into civil war. The rivalries and suspicions between the main ethnic groups - Arab Shias, Arab Sunnis, and Kurds - are complicated by regional and ideological loyalties. There is also a danger that neighbouring states such as Turkey, Syria and Iran could be drawn into the conflict in defence of their own perceived interests. It is clear that the insurgents are hoping to provoke warfare between the different groups, and only the security and stability which the coalition forces can provide is likely to prevent this until a lasting political settlement can be made. That coalition troops are not the cause of violence is shown by the fact that most attacks are not against them, but rather against ordinary Iraqis, including innocent shoppers and worshippers in mosques, as well as policemen, soldiers and potential recruits, and construction workers.

Argument #4


Even if you believed the war against Saddam Hussein's regime was justified, the time has come to remove our forces from Iraq. Iraq has a new, elected government, and has successfully voted in a referendum on a new, relatively liberal constitution. Sunni factions are now engaging in political discussions and the new regime is gaining recognition from neighbouring states. At the same time the new Iraqi army and police are gaining in numbers and ability. Not only do these positive developments make it possible for coalition forces to be removed, withdrawal is also necessary in order to push Iraqi factions into making realistic concessions in order to work together, away from the protection and patronage of the American occupiers. And unless they are made to go it alone without coalition support, how are the new Iraqi armed forces ever going to be motivated into effectiveness?


The coalition powers do look forward to pulling their forces out of Iraq when the time is right, but that point has not yet come. Although the constitution and formation of a legitimate government are major achievements, there is still much work to do. Sunni Arabs have to be convinced that the new settlement is in their interests and be drawn into government. Foreign terrorists have to be tracked down and dealt with and border security tightened. Most of all, the Iraqi army and police have to be ready to take over security operations from the coalition forces if the new Iraq is to have a stable future. Despite promising developments over the last year, it is unrealistic to expect Iraq's own forces to be able to take over fully in the near future. As regional police forces gain confidence and experience, and as individual army battalions become trained, properly equipped and battle-ready, then a gradual withdrawal of coalition troops can take place over the course of the next few years.

Argument #5


Occupying Iraq makes the USA and its allies targets for terrorist attack throughout the world. The Madrid and London bombings, as well as attacks on coalition interests worldwide (e.g. Australians in Indonesia) show that the Iraq war has made us less safe. Until western forces are withdrawn from Iraq, the citizens of coalition countries will continue to be unnecessarily at risk from terrorism.


The Iraq war has not made us more vulnerable to terrorist attacks than before - we were already targets. The attacks on New York and Washington of September 11th 2001 took place well before the start of the Iraq War, and other Al-Qaeda attacks and plots against coalition countries took place before 2003. Furthermore, more recent attacks in Indonesia and France have shown that even countries opposed to the Iraq war are not safe from Islamic terrorists.

Argument #6


America and its allies would benefit internationally from withdrawing their forces from Iraq. Mending relations with the Arab and Muslim world, as well as the many other countries which opposed the war would make it easier to fight the war on terror, as well as advancing other diplomatic goals (e.g. restraining Iran and North Korea's nuclear ambitions). Withdrawal would also make it easier for an over-stretched America to focus on a broader anti-terrorism strategy, aimed at building democracies and promoting human rights in the Middle East and elsewhere. Getting all the CIA's Arabic speakers back from Baghdad's Green Zone would also allow restructured US intelligence agencies to concentrate on preventing future terrorist attacks.


A show of weakness like withdrawing too early from Iraq will do nothing for our international image. Any bad feeling towards the USA and its allies due to the invasion will still remain. Getting out too soon will simply reinforce the views of those who thought the invasion wrong in the first place. On the other hand, staying in Iraq to secure peace, democracy and human rights will set a positive example to other countries and show that the values for which the war was publicly fought were genuine. In any case, anti-Americanism is fuelled by other factors, from religious hatred and envy of US prosperity and freedom, to the Israel/Palestine issue, not merely by Iraq.

Argument #7


The Iraq war and subsequent occupation has been a hugely expensive mistake, costing US taxpayers some $223 Billion in Congressional appropriations. In addition, it has put a massive strain on the US military, which is not surprisingly finding it increasingly hard to recruit new soldiers. Many existing troops are already on their third tour of duty in Iraq and, again not surprisingly, many are choosing to leave the army rather than go back. National Guard units are also being asked to do much more than has ever been expected of them before, and they too are struggling to retain their men and women and to recruit more. Disasters like the Abu Ghraib abuse have also damaged the proud reputation of the US military, both at home and abroad. The British army is also experiencing similar difficulties.


You cannot put a price on freedom and security. We should be proud that our nations, and their armed forces have risen to the challenge of rebuilding Iraq, and confident that their brave efforts will make the world both safer and freer. It is a shame that other countries have not been willing to share their part of the burden. Apart from our moral commitment to the Iraqi people and the desirability of spreading freedom, it is also in our interest to secure a stable Middle East. Our free society and open economy depends for its prosperity on international peace and stability, so all our futures are threatened if we give in to terrorism in Iraq or elsewhere.

Argument #8


Public opinion in coalition countries is moving strongly in favour of withdrawing forces from Iraq as soon as possible. There is danger in governments running foreign policies which lack a basis of popular support. This is especially true in Britain with its substantial Muslim minority, but almost all the coalition countries are divided on the issue. With Iraq dominating politics and the media, trust in government is lost and it is hard for those in power to press their domestic agendas (e.g. pension savings reform).


It is natural that the public would like our troops to return, but polls indicate that they also want to ensure Iraq is stable before we leave. Citizens expect their government to provide strong leadership, taking difficult decisions and staying the course even in adversity. This explains why the leaders of the USA, UK and Australia have all been returned in elections since 2003. Many of those now calling for the troops to be pulled out supported the war and the aim of securing a free and democratic Iraq, and have now changed their tune for unprincipled, opportunist reasons. We can assure our citizens that our troops will not remain in Iraq a day longer than is necessary. Over the next year we should be able to gradually reduce our forces there as Iraq's own police and army assume more responsibility for security. But the situation on the ground remains unpredictable and it would be wrong to issue a timetable and stick blindly to it.



  • This House believes the USA and its allies should withdraw their forces from Iraq immediately
  • This House would withdraw from Iraq
  • This House would bring the troops home
  • This House wants the troops out

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