We are withdrawing again from Iraq, forever

Summary: a survey of the Stratfor database from 2003 to now shows 21 articles about promises or hints of reducing US forces in Iraq.  This post was updated to November 2009.

Like a trout jumping for the lure, we get excited at each glimpse of the light at the end of the long tunnel that is the Iraq War. Every so often our leaders discuss the possibility of a drawdown or even withdrawal of our troops from Iraq — contingent on future good news. Since their optimism is delusional, instead our forces have to remain. In fact, we have had to increase US forces as our Coalition allies have gone home.

This is by no means a complete survey of all the “withdrawal soon from Iraq” rumors that have helped maintain US support for the war. The following results from a quick search of the Stratfor database. A more complete survey would be even more heart-breaking.

My thanks to Stratfor, provider of a premier private geopolitical reporting and archive service. They make this kind of research fast and easy.


  1. The number of US troops in Iraq
  2. Before talking about withdrawals, think of “Friedman Units”
  3. Two dozen plus Stratfor articles discussing drawdowns of US troops from Iraq
  4. For more information from the FM site, and an Afterword

(1)  The number of US troops in Iraq

As of November 2009:  aprox 120 thousand; the peak was aprox 165 thousand in 2007.  There was no “surge” in total Coalition troops, whose numbers peaked at 184 thousand in 2005.

 From BBC article of 8 March 2007

(2)  Before talking about withdrawals…

Note how the “Friedman Unit” of six months until we can evaluate progress in Iraq has become obsolete. Now we need even longer units.

(a)  How this can end“, Ann Gildroy and Michael O’Hanlon, Washington Post, 16 April 2008 — We need 24 months!  Excerpt:

That said, continued progress will be far more likely if major reductions in U.S. forces beyond those currently planned await early 2010.

(b)  After Action Report – Visit to Iraq“, Barry R McCaffrey (General, US Army, retired), posted on his website, 18 December 2008 — O’Hanlon is too optimistic. We need 36 months!  Excerpt:

We have rapidly decreasing political leverage on the Iraqi factional leadership. It is evident that the American people have no continued political commitment to solving the Iraqi Civil War. The US Armed Forces cannot for much longer impose an internal skeleton of governance and security on 27 million warring people. The US must achieve our real political objectives to withdraw most US combat forces in the coming 36 months leaving in place:

  1. A stable Iraqi government.
  2. A strong and responsive Iraqi security force.
  3. A functioning economy.
  4. Some form of accountable, law-based government.
  5. A government with active diplomatic and security ties to its six neighboring states.

(3)  Two dozen plus Stratfor articles discussing drawdowns of US troops from Iraq

In fact, as we all know, troop levels have increased over time. But our Presidential candidates promise that our troops will come home, eventually. 

Update:  new Stratfor reports added through November 2009.

Schedule For U.S. Troop Reductions from Iraq Announced, 19 October 2003

The Department of Defense is working on a plan for the gradual reduction of troops in Iraq from the current 130,000 to 50,000 by mid 2005, the Washington Post reports Oct. 19. The plan, which has yet to be approved by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, proposes a reduction of force-levels to 100,000 by mid-2004.

An unnamed military official said the withdrawal would commence with British and U.S. forces from key cities, beginning with Basra and Mosul. … These plans are predicated upon the understanding that Iraqi security forces, and foreign peacekeepers from other countries will have assumed basic security functions. The projected troop levels for mid-2005, which might even go as low as 40,000, are believed to be sustainable for several years.

U.S. Troop Reduction from Iraq Possibility Unknown, 23December 2003

In a Dec. 23 report to Congress, the Bush administration warned that the United States might not be able to reduce its troop presence in Iraq as quickly as originally foreseen. “It is not possible to know at this time either the duration of military operations or the scope and duration of the deployment of the United States armed forces necessary for the full accomplishment of our goals,” the report read.

150,000 U.S. Troops in Iraq For Elections, 14 December 2004

Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Dec. 14 that Washington would reduce troops levels in Iraq only when post-election circumstances allow. Myers said 150,000 troops would be in Iraq during the January elections and would remain there until “events on the ground” allow for a reduction in troop levels.

Withdrawal Of U.S. Troops from Iraq?, 5 February 2005

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said Feb. 4 that 15,000 U.S. troops could be withdrawn from Iraq as a result of the end of the country’s elections. The troop reduction would bring the total number of U.S. troops in Iraq to approximately 135,000.

U.S. Troop Reduction from Iraq?, 11 April 2005

U.S. military commanders and defense officials said efforts to improve security — including training Iraqi forces and improving fighting against insurgents — in Iraq might allow U.S. troop reduction by early 2006, The New York Times reported April 11. Attacks against coalition forces have fallen to between 30 and 40 a day from a high of 140 per day before the Jan. 30 elections. Officials say between 12,000 and 20,000 insurgents are active.

The Possibility of a U.S. Troop Reduction from Iraq, 12 April 2005

The New York Times recently reported that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Meyers believes the U.S. military is “on track” to reduce its troop presence in Iraq in 2006. U.S. officials have hinted at reducing troop strength in Iraq since the Jan. 30 elections there and have said their goal is to hand over security responsibilities for the country to the Iraqis. But this strategy might have less to do with the Pentagon’s confidence in the Iraqi security forces’ professionalism and skill than it does with Washington’s ability to maintain a large occupation force while fighting an insurgency.

The Drawdown and Repositioning of U.S. Forces, 9 July 2005

The United States will be compelled to significantly reduce the size of its military presence in Iraq starting in 2006. Recruiting shortfalls and the strain of the Iraq campaign on U.S. military operations in the rest of the world will have a serious impact on the ability of the United States to respond to threats elsewhere. To compensate for this and still be able to have an effective military presence in Iraq, the U.S. military will reorganize its forces in the country, causing them to look very different than they do now.

50,000 U.S. Troops Could Depart from Iraq, 13 September 2005

As many as 50,000 U.S. troops could be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of 2005, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said in an interview with The Washington Post published Sept. 13. Talabani added that he would discuss the troop reductions during meetings with U.S. President George W. Bush.

Iraq, U.S.: An Extended Engagement, 13 October 2006

The U.S. Army is planning to maintain present troop levels in Iraq through 2010 in case they are needed, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker said Oct. 11. Such contingency planning is a perfectly normal thing for the Army to do. However, the timing of Schoomaker’s announcement raises some questions and highlights political tensions inside the Pentagon.

Searching for a U.S. Exit Strategy from Iraq, 2 November 2005

… the internal Iraqi debate over the future of U.S. forces in the country is heating up, with {Iraqi President} Talabani, Ahmed Chalabi and Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani all beginning to stake out their opinions on the matter. These statements are also a signal from Iraqi leaders to the United States that both sides need to work out an arrangement that can balance their security and legitimacy needs — and soon. Washington will use this opportunity to put forth its preferences in terms of an exit strategy.

Iraqis Ready For U.S. Withdrawal?, 30 November 2005

Iraqi forces should be sufficiently trained to allow a U.S. troop reduction in 2006, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Nov. 29. U.S. President George W. Bush said the decision to pull out troops would be based on whether U.S. military commanders in Iraq believe Iraqis are ready to fight the insurgency.

Reduction In U.S. Troops from Iraq Announced, 23 December 2005

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announced Dec. 23 the first reduction of U.S. troop levels in Iraq. Rumsfeld told troops in Iraq that President George W. Bush had authorized new cuts to bring troop levels below the 138,000 baseline. He did not specify an exact number, but Pentagon officials said as many as 7,000 troops could be withdrawn sometime in 2006.

Iraq, U.S.: Reduction In Troops By 2008?, 6 December 2006

By the end of 2008, all U.S. combat brigades subject to developments on the ground that are deemed unnecessary for force protection could be out of Iraq, Iraq Study Group chair Lee Hamilton said Dec. 6. He added that special forces will continue targeting al Qaeda.

U.S. Troop Drawdown from Iraq In 2009?, 19 August 2007

U.S. President George W. Bush is expected to call for a gradual reduction of U.S. forces in Iraq by allowing the 25,000 troops deployed there as part of a surge operation to return to the United States at the end of their tours, ABC News reported Aug. 19, citing an unnamed White House spokesman. The drawdown would begin in 2009.

U.S. General Considering Withdrawals from Iraq, 7 September 2007

Top U.S. commander in Iraq Gen. David Petraeus is considering the withdrawal of around 4,000 troops from Iraq in early 2008, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported Sept. 7, citing senior U.S. officials. Petraeus reportedly will support the withdrawal of one brigade if the troop reduction does not threaten “recent gains” made in the war.

President Bush Announces Troop Reductions from Iraq, 13 September 2007

President Bush announced Sept. 13 in an Oval Office address to the nation that he will order the U.S. military to draw down by 5,700 the number of troops in Iraq by Dec. 25. By July 2008, troops will be reduced from 20 combat brigades to 15. Bush said he has accepted the recommendations of U.S. Army General David Petraeus and U.S. ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, and has asked them to update their plan for dealing with Iraq and issue another report to Congress in March 2008. The report will project future troop levels and resource requirements of the war in Iraq. …

U.S. Military Unit Leaves Iraq, 28 September 2007

A U.S. military unit withdrew from Iraq on Sept. 28 in accordance with the U.S. administration’s plans to reduce troop levels. The 2,200 marines in the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit are the first to go in a plan meant to drawdown U.S. troop levels in Iraq.

Troop Drawdown Plan from Iraq Is On Schedule, 22 December 2007

A plan to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Iraq from the current 158,000 to about 100,000 by the end of 2008 is on track, Xinhua reported Dec. 22, citing comments from U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates at a press conference. Gates said that many developments could affect the drawdown plan, and he left open the possibility that the United States might need to send more troops to Afghanistan.

Bush, Petraeus Talk Troop Reduction from Iraq, 12 January 2008

U.S. President George W. Bush and Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, on Jan. 12 discussed possible troop reduction in Iraq, The Washington Post reported. Bush said the military is “on track” to reduce troops as planned from 20 to 15 combat brigades by midsummer, bringing troop numbers to 130,000. Bush and Petraeus considered scenarios for withdrawing more troops, but agreed it is too soon to make a decision. Long-term success in Iraq will require U.S. involvement beyond his presidency, Bush said.

Iraq, U.S.: Pause In Troop Withdrawals, 22 February 2008

The United States will temporarily stop pulling troops from Iraq in July or August but hopes to resume withdrawals after assessing the impact of the current drawdown, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Feb. 22. Gates said details of the plan would become clearer when U.S. commander in Iraq Gen. David Petraeus issues recommendations in March.

Pentagon Expects 140,000 U.S. Troops In Iraq After Drawdown, 25 February 2008

The Pentagon announced that the United States expects to have about 140,000 troops in Iraq after it has completed a planned reduction of combat forces in July, Reuters reported Feb. 25. That means the troop level would still be 8,000 higher than when President George W. Bush ordered a “surge” of extra forces into Iraq in January 2007. Army Lt. Gen. Carter Ham, director of operations for the U.S. military’s Joint Staff, said it was too soon to say whether troop numbers could go below the pre-surge level of 132,000 in 2008. There are currently about 158,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.

Troop Presence In Iraq Discussed, 22 March 2006

U.S. President George W. Bush on March 21 did not reject the possibility U.S troops will maintain a presence in Iraq long after his term ends in 2009. Bush has laid the groundwork of U.S troop reduction by the end of the year, but said a full withdrawal of troops will depend on decisions by future U.S presidents and Iraqi governments.

Petraeus Is Considering Locations For Troop Reductions from Iraq, 9 April 2008

U.S. General David Petraeus told Congress on April 9 he is considering four or five locations in Iraq where U.S. troops could be reduced, but not until security issues have been thoroughly examined.

Bush Expected To Stop Troop Reductions In Iraq, 9 April 2008

U.S. President George W. Bush is expected to announce April 10 that he supports Gen. David Petraeus’ recommendation for holding off on troop reductions in Iraq, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported April 9, citing a White House spokeswoman. Bush might also discuss the possibility of shorter tours of duty in Iraq, the spokeswoman said.

Combat Tours in Iraq Shortened Starting August 1, 10 April 2008

While there is no letup in U.S. military operations in Iraq planned, U.S. forces will take on targeted raid missions and troop training as Iraqi forces take a greater role, U.S. President George Bush said April 10. Bush also said starting Aug. 1 he will reduce the length of combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan to 12 months, down from the current level of 15 months.

4,000 Surge Troops To Leave Iraq, 29 May 2008

The U.S. military on May 29 said it will withdraw 4,000 more soldiers who were deployed under the 2007 troop surge in Iraq, citing a four-year low in violence across the country, Agence France-Presse reported. The pullout, set to be completed in June, marks the fourth brigade to withdraw from Iraq out of five brigades that were part of the surge. Washington has said it plans to remove 30,000 surge troops from Iraq by July and then hold a 45-day evaluation to assess the overall level of U.S. troops there.

A Rumor of Withdrawal from Iraq, 14 July 2008

The New York Times and other media are reporting that the United States is considering withdrawing troops from Iraq this year. The Bush administration is thinking about withdrawing as few as one and as many as three of 15 combat brigades now operating in Iraq by inauguration day in January 2009.

Iraq Says U.S. Troops To Withdraw from Iraq In 3 Years, 14 August 2008

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said that U.S. soldiers will pull out of some Iraqi cities beginning next summer and all of the country within three years under the terms of a proposed agreement, media reported Aug. 14. Zebari also told The Times newspaper that the ability for U.S. soldiers to conduct arrests would be curbed and that troops would need approval from commanders before conducting operations.

U.S. Troops Might Pull Out from Iraq Earlier Than Expected, 3 February 2009

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said that U.S. troops might withdraw sooner than the dates scheduled in the pullout agreement with the United States, the Iraqi Media Center reported Feb. 3. He said, “The new U.S. administration has sent messages on its plans to withdraw the U.S. forces ahead of the agreed upon schedule, which is something we consider to be good.”

Combat Forces Out of Iraq, August 2010, 27 February 2009

President Barack Obama announced Feb. 27 that he will withdraw U.S. combat forces from Iraq by 31 Aug. 2010, but will leave 35,000 to 50,000 troops until the end of 2011 to train and equip the Iraqi forces, protect civilian reconstruction projects and conduct counterterrorism operations.

No Additional Iraq Troop Cuts In 2009, 9 March 2009

The U.S. military in Iraq is unlikely to withdraw any more forces in 2009 according to a top U.S. commander, Reuters reported March 9. U.S. Army Lieutenant General Lloyd Austin said that forces are likely to remain at current levels to provide security for national elections at the end of 2009

Obama says U.S. To Withdraw 10,000 Troops from Iraq By 2009 End, 10 July 2009

The United States will withdraw 10,000 of the 130,000 U.S. troops currently in Iraq by the end of 2009 and draw down force levels to 50,000 by August 2010, Iraq’s charge d’affairs to Russia said on July 10, RIA Novosti reported. The Iraqi official also said the United States has handed over to Iraqi troops 142 combat positions, including 86 in Baghdad, and the remaining 360 facilities controlled by United States will be turned over to Iraq by the end of 2011.

U.S. Troop Withdrawal To Occur On Schedule – Gates, 19 November 2009

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said plans are going ahead for a large troop withdrawal from Iraq next spring, The Associated Press reported Nov. 19. Speaking at a Pentagon news conference, Gates said that warnings that politics could delay Iraqi elections slated for January 2010 are not affecting his plans for the troop withdrawal.

Please add in the comments links to other stories about rumored or promised plans to withdraw US forces from Iraq.

(4a)  For more information from the FM site

To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar.  Of esp interest these days:

Reference pages about other topics appear on the right side menu bar, including About the FM website page.

Posts about the war in Iraq:

  1. The Iraq insurgency has ended, which opens a path to peace, 13 March 2007
  2. Beyond Insurgency: An End to Our War in Iraq, 27 September 2007
  3. Iraq, after the war, 20 May 2008
  4. Slowly the new Iraq becomes visible, 18 July 2008
  5. Brief update about events in Iraq, 8 April 2009

(4b)  Afterword

Please share your comments by posting below.  Per the FM site’s Comment Policy, please make them brief (250 word max), civil and relevant to this post.  Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

9 thoughts on “We are withdrawing again from Iraq, forever”

  1. Your message rings so true. Do you think anyone, besides those having to fight, understand what you are saying?
    Fabius Maximus replies: Yes, but not as many as I would hope.
    I have a post in draft about this war-friendly attitude that has come over us. Belligerent, even. What has brought about this change since the war-phobic post-Vietnam era?

  2. I have to say, I read some of those feeds that show up when you pass over my name and that I am impressed you follow them. I thought it was only the Chinese and the occasional Russian who read my stuff, so I have to thank you for including me within your site, so to speak.

  3. Scuze me, ahemm,, I was pretty young at the time, and correct me if I’m wrong, but there was real “progress” in Vietnam, the “Vietnamisation” of that war, and then rumoured withdrawl for months into years,,,.

    Sounds like pretty much the same ol’ misrable bag of tricks, and sadly the US public falls for it, yet again.

    I do fell empathy for the troops and know of several volenteers part-timers who merely wanted to supplement a meager living in rural VT, got sent over, and will never be the same, still others
    never made it back at all.

    For what ?! M

  4. Pingback: A Second Hand Conjecture » Victory Is Always Six Months Away

  5. Hmm, Mr. O’Hanlon says 24 months? Finally a glimpse of certainty! Now we know it’s for sure NOT 24 months. That guy has an unprecedented record of talking nonsense and offering wrong ideas. I don’t get why ANYONE still listens to him. He’s incredibly useless, an anti-expert.

  6. Things that make you feel good inside :
    Getting a takeaway tonight instead of peeling those muddy , wormy home grown potatoes .
    Stopping bashing your head on a brick wall .
    Your troops being out of Iraq .
    Feels real nice.

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