Photo: Courtesy of CSPAN
The withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq continued to be a flash point during Monday night’s presidential debate, with President Barack Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney challenging one another on who has said what about winding down American presence there.The point of contention was over whether Obama had pushed for a joint status of forces agreement that would have allowed the U.S. to keep troops in Iraq after the 2011 withdrawal date.
Here’s the exchange, via the debate transcript:
ROMNEY: With regards to Iraq, you and I agreed, I believe, that there should have been a status of forces agreement.
OBAMA: That’s not true.
ROMNEY: Oh, you didn’t — you didn’t want a status of forces agreement?
OBAMA: No, but what I — what I would not have done is left 10,000 troops in Iraq that would tie us down. That certainly would not help us in the Middle East.
ROMNEY: I’m sorry, you actually — there was a —there was an effort on the part of the president to have a status of forces agreement. And I concurred in that and said we should have some number of troops that stayed on. That was something I concurred with.
That was your posture. That was my posture as well. You thought it should have been 5,000 troops. I thought it should have been more.
Romney is actually correct on this point. The status of forces agreement — put into place in 2008, before Obama took office — called for a full U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq by the end of 2011. When that time came, the Obama administration tried to work out an extension of the agreement with the Iraqi government that would have kept an unspecified number of U.S. troops (likely between 3,000 and 5,000) in the country to train Iraqi security forces.
The deal fell apart after Iraqi political leadership refused to grant legal immunity for U.S. troops, and the last U.S. troops withdrew from the country in December 2011.
As Romney pointed out last night, Obama usually glosses over this failed effort to keep troops in Iraq. Instead, the president touts the full withdrawal as evidence that he delivered on his 2008 campaign promise to end the wars begun under the Bush administration.
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