Lucas Jackson / Reuters This way out: leaving Iraq, December 2011.

Withdrawal Symptoms

The Bungling of the Iraq Exit


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In a speech at Fort Bragg on December 14, 2011, President Barack Obama declared that the U.S. military would soon depart Iraq, ending one of the longest wars in American history. The United States, Obama said, would leave behind “a sovereign, stable, and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government that was elected by its people.” Four days later, the last U.S. military unit crossed from Iraq into Kuwait, and American armed forces transferred all their responsibilities to either the central government of Iraq, U.S. Central Command, or the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, completing the most complex handoff from military to civilian authorities in U.S. history.

The next day, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki -- who since 2006 had sought to enhance his personal interests and those of Shiite religious parties at the expense of Iraq’s Kurds and Sunni Arabs -- secured an arrest warrant for Iraq’s Sunni vice president, Tariq al-Hashimi, accusing him of supporting terrorism. A crisis erupted when Hashimi’s Sunni-dominated political bloc boycotted the national unity government that Obama had so recently touted as inclusive and responsive to the Iraqi people.

That same week, 17 explosions rocked Baghdad, killing at least 65 people and wounding more than 200; al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) later claimed responsibility. With Iranian encouragement, Maliki’s government began to systematically target Sunni elites on the basis of trumped-up charges of terrorism or alleged affiliation with the outlawed Baath Party. Sectarian violence soon erupted, and by May 2013, it had reached levels not

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