The Obama administration was willing to keep a small force of several thousand in Iraq, but could not work out a deal with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to provide troops immunity from the Iraqi justice system.
“They would be needed to increase the growth and development of the Iraqi security forces,” Gen. Keane said.
The idea was to ensure that the Iraqi security forces had the tactical skills to find insurgents and execute raids. Now, the Iraqis will try to do such missions without U.S. military intelligence, special operations advisers and air support such as gunships and surveillance drones.
Retired Army Brig. Gen. Mark T. Kimmitt, a former deputy operations chief in Baghdad and a policymaker at the Pentagon, said the effectiveness of Iraq’s counterinsurgency operations against Shiite extremists and al Qaeda in Iraq may drop as much as 50 percent.
The Pentagon’s progress report on Iraq in June 2010 said its counterterrorism service was “highly trained and effective” but lacked the ability on its own to go after an entire terrorist network as opposed to a single individual.
“At the operational level, it’s going to make a significant change because for years the Iraqi security forces have depended on us for counterterrorism support, for counterintelligence support, for logistical support,” Gen. Kimmitt said.
“We are now pulling all that out, and they will have to go it alone. By their own admission they are not ready to do it. They had not planned to do it by 2012. Their plans went all the way out to 2020 before they thought they were going to be ready to do this independently.”
Iraq’s top military officer, Lt. Gen. Babaker Zebari, said last summer that the security forces would not be fully capable for another eight years.
Iranian attack feared
“They have virtually no capability for external defense to protect their borders from bad actors in the region,” he said.
“They don’t have the intelligence. They certainly don’t have the hardware — tanks, mechanized infantry vehicles. Let’s posit an attack from Iran. They have neither the air support nor the ability to stand and fight at their border. The Iranian army has capacity this Iraqi army does not yet have.”
The top brass had wanted to keep a force of quick-reaction commandos, trainers and aviators in Iraq past the 2011 deadline set in 2008 by Mr. Bush in what is called a status-of-forces agreement. Washington always viewed the date as flexible if Baghdad requested a longer presence.