Lawmakers, military families react to Iraq withdrawal

October 22, 2011 1:18:19 AM PDT
President Barack Obama's announcement that the United States' involvement in Iraq would be over by the end of the year came as a surprise to many, but not to the leading anti-war member of Congress. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., says the president confided weeks ago that Friday's announcement was coming.

"Well, we've heard for several weeks now that in fact this would be the case, and again we've been in close contact with the White House," Lee said.

Lee says she reminded the president of her resolution to cut off funding for the war, but it was Iraq's decision to refuse immunity for U.S. troops that left the president no choice, says the head of Stanford University's Center on Democracy.

"If you can't exempt American troops from being liable to be tried in Iraqi courts under Iraqi law, we can't stay under that circumstance, that's not a condition we can accept anywhere in the world," Prof. Larry Diamond said.

In early 2004, Diamond was a senior advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq. He says now as the U.S. withdraws the concern will be that Iran will try and move in.

"So the United States is going to have to maintain a significant military presence in the gulf area to balance Iran for a long time to come," he said.

Those troops won't be in Iraq, but the U.S. does have military in Kuwait and other countries in the region.

There is also the question of whether Iraq can hold together, considering the deep political divisions that are rooted in religious and regional divisions.

"Different groups like the Shia and the Sunni, they fight with each other all the time," Iraq veteran Tommy Flores said.

Flores, a Hayward resident, just returned from Iraq two and a half months ago. The black hawk door gunner says he's torn by the decision to end the U.S. presence, but he understands that without immunity the troops couldn't stay.

"If Iraq is not going to help us and we're trying to help them, then yeah, it's time to come home," he said.

In addition to the 4,400 American troops killed in Iraq, more than 30,000 have been wounded. The war the Bush administration said would cost in the neighborhood of $80 billion wound up costing $757 billion so far.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Friday called the Iraq announcement "welcome news," and said it, "brings us toward the completion of a mission for which our men and women in uniform and their families have made enormous sacrifices."

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., added, "Today is a day to honor our troops and military families who have sacrificed so much to give the Iraqi people a chance at a better future."

Karen Meredith says she never thought this day, a clear end to the U.S. military presence in Iraq, would come.

"I hope the families have loud parties and happy parties and embrace that their loved ones are back," Meredith said.

The president has promised most of the 40,000 troops remaining in Iraq will be home for the holidays.

Lt. Col. Graham Clark, who spent a year in Iraq including Christmas 2003, says he knows the end of the war will be a relief for many.

"It's been a long series of deployments. There's been soldiers deployed three, four five times, I think those people and those families it will finally be a sense that the mission is over and we can return back to a normal life," Clark said.

Many hope the Iraqi people seize the opportunity to maintain their own security and stability.

"All Americans can be proud of what our country has done in helping the Iraqi people stand up and really truly on its two feet with their new found independence they really have a new beginning," Major Jon Alvarado said.

The 351st civil affairs command in Mountain View has already canceled one company's scheduled deployment to Iraq. The general consensus is that the timing of Friday's announcement is welcome news.

"If this news expedites their original timeline than it's great news, most of them were on a timeline so anytime you can be home for Christmas, it's good," Col. Scott Hood said.

For Karen Meredith the timing is bittersweet. She last hugged her son during a Christmas holiday.

"I didn't know he was going to Iraq when I saw him last," Meredith said.

Meredith's son, Lt. Ken Ballard, was killed in action fighting in Iraq.

"I love seeing the homecomings but it's something I never got and so many of us never got. People need to remember that and remember us," Meredith said.

A reminder that an end to war does not end the pain.

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