The Obama administration has announced plans to withdraw nearly all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of the year after failing to reach an agreement with the Iraqi government. The United States had discussed keeping thousands of troops in Iraq, but had insisted their immunity be extended as a precondition. After the Iraqi government refused, the administration said Friday it would withdraw all its forces except for around 150 troops to guard U.S. sites. At the White House, President Obama said the withdrawal will mark the end of the Iraq war.
President Obama: “I can report that, as promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year. After nearly nine years, America’s war in Iraq will be over. Over the next two months, our troops in Iraq, tens of thousands of them, will pack up their gear and board convoys for the journey home.”
Despite withdrawing nearly all troops by the end of 2011, the United States will still maintain a large force of private contractors. According to ABC News, at least 5,000 contractors will remain in Iraq in addition to more than 4,500 support personnel. The United States closed its regional headquarters in northern Iraq in advance of the withdrawal date. Speaking on NBC’s Meet the Press, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States will maintain strong military ties with Iraq, and issued a warning to Iran over trying to exert influence following the U.S. withdrawal.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “No one should miscalculate America’s resolve and commitment to helping support the Iraqi democracy. We have paid too high a price to give the Iraqis this chance. And I hope that Iran and no one else miscalculates that. So we are now going to have a security relationship with Iraq for training and support of their military, similar to what we have around the world from Jordan to Colombia.”
In addition to maintaining a large private force in Iraq, Obama administration officials have also floated the possibility of maintaining a large military deployment in neighboring countries such as Kuwait. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the United States will negotiate a new agreement with Iraq over military training and assistance.
Leon Panetta: “Once we’ve completed the reduction of the combat presence, then I think we begin a process of negotiating with them in order to determine what will be the nature of that relationship—what kind of training do they need, what kinds of security needs do they need, and how can we provide it in an effective way. We do this in other countries. That’s what we’re going to do in Iraq.”
Thousands of Libyans turned out for celebrations on Sunday to mark the death of former leader Col. Muammar Gaddafi and the apparent end to the fighting that overthrew his regime. Libya’s governing National Transitional Council has proclaimed Gaddafi’s death marks the “liberation” of Libya after more than four decades of autocratic rule. Gaddafi’s body remains on display in the town of Misurata following his capture and death on Thursday. According to Reuters, an autopsy shows Gaddafi had a bullet in the head and a bullet in the abdomen, along with multiple injuries. The United Nations and United States have called on Libya’s interim government to explain the circumstances surrounding his killing. In his White House address, President Obama said the conflict in Libya is coming to a close.
President Obama: “Yesterday marked the definitive end of the Gaddafi regime in Libya. And there, too, our military played a critical role in shaping a situation on the ground in which the Libyan people can build their own future. Today, NATO is working to bring this successful mission to a close. So to sum up, the United States is moving forward from a position of strength. The long war in Iraq will come to an end by the end of this year. The transition in Afghanistan is moving forward, and our troops are finally coming home.”
The United States has pulled out its ambassador to Syria, citing security concerns. The U.S. State Department says Robert Ford has returned to Washington following threats on his personal safety. The U.S. embassy in Damascus has confirmed Ford is no longer in the country but says he was not formally recalled. Ford has angered the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for backing Syria’s protest movement. At least 3,000 civilians have been killed, and numerous human rights abuses have been reported in the Assad regime’s crackdown so far this year.
Senator John McCain of Arizona has become the highest-profile U.S. lawmaker to date to raise the possibility of U.S. military action in Syria. Speaking at an event in Jordan, McCain said, “Now that military operations in Libya are ending, there will be renewed focus on what practical military operations might be considered to protect civilian lives in Syria. There are even growing calls among the opposition for some foreign military intervention. We hear these pleas for assistance.”
U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is in Indonesia on his first trip to Asia since taking over at the Pentagon. Speaking at a meeting with regional counterparts, Panetta vowed to maintain the U.S. military deployment of 85,000 troops in East Asia, calling the Pacific a “top priority.”
Tunisia has held its first-ever democratic elections, nine months after the nation’s popular uprising kicked off the Arab Spring and movements for change around the world. Voters are selecting a new assembly to appoint a new interim government and rewrite the Tunisian constitution. The results may be delayed after an unexpectedly large turnout.
At least 270 people have been killed and more than 1,000 injured following a 7.2-magnitude earthquake that rocked eastern Turkey. Rescuers worked through the night, using cranes and shovels to clear piles of debris and rubble in the hopes of locating survivors. The city of Ercis, near the Iran border, was hardest hit with roughly 80 multistory buildings collapsing to the ground.
Around 130 protesters were arrested in Chicago over the weekend after refusing to leave their Occupy Chicago tent encampment at Grant Park, the site of President Obama’s election night victory rally. Around 175 people were arrested in Grant Park just one week earlier.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor canceled a speech at the University of Pennsylvania on Friday after apparently learning it was open to the public. Cantor was due to give a speech on income inequality in what was regarded as the first extensive Republican response to the Occupy Wall Street protests nationwide. But the speech was called off after Cantor’s aides reportedly worried the audience would be full of protesters. Cantor had previously likened the Occupy protests to “growing mobs.”
In Argentina, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner has been re-elected in a landslide vote. Her margin of victory was the largest in an Argentine presidential race since the end of the military dictatorship in 1983. Fernández de Kirchner came to office replacing her husband, Néstor Kirchner, who died last year.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has declared himself cancer-free four months after surgery to remove a malignant tumor. Chávez has not disclosed his cancer diagnosis, but underwent four rounds of chemotherapy. He marked his public return with a speech before thousands of supporters.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez: “Almost four months ago, exactly at the same time at this hour, I was in the operating room undergoing a procedure that lasted seven hours. The cancer was treated, and now, like a miracle, four months later, I am here standing again before you. I am here with you on the streets, yet four months later!”
Controversy has erupted over the past week after one of Chávez’s former doctors claimed the Venezuelan president has less than two years to live. The doctor, Salvador Navarrete, made the comments in an open letter and then fled Venezuela, citing fears for his safety. Navarrete last treated Chávez 10 years ago, but claims he obtained the information from relatives and members of Chávez’s medical team. Chávez’s current doctors have rejected Navarrete’s claims.
More developments have occurred in the controversy surrounding a public radio host who lost one of her jobs over her political activism. Lisa Simeone was dismissed at the show “Soundprint” after National Public Radio officials raised concern over her participation in the “October 2011” protests in Washington, D.C. NPR now says it will no longer distribute Simeone’s other broadcast, “World of Opera.” The program’s producer, North Carolina’s WDAV, says it plans to keep Simeone as host and that her political involvement has no bearing on her role in the broadcast. In a correction to a headline from Friday, “Soundprint” is distributed independently, not by NPR, but runs on public radio stations around the country.