Courtesy Reuters

In November 2008, representatives of U.S. President George W. Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki signed a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which established the operational and legal framework for U.S. soldiers and their civilian counterparts in Iraq. The key line in the agreement was contained in Article 24: “All the United States Forces shall withdraw from all Iraqi territory no later than December 31, 2011.” In a major speech a few months later, newly inaugurated U.S. President Barack Obama affirmed that he intended to uphold the deadline.

But it is proving difficult for the U.S. military to say goodbye to Iraq, after what has now amounted to a 21-year engagement, including nearly 4,000 days of no-fly zones and 3,000 days of stability operations since the first Gulf War. U.S. defense officials have recently begun begging and bluffing to compel Iraq’s government to ask the United States to stay.

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  • MICAH ZENKO is a fellow in the Center for Preventive Action at the Council on Foreign Relations, and author of Between Threats and War: U.S. Discrete Military Operations in the Post-Cold War World.
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