FLASHBACK: Obama Team Predicted Rosy Future for Iraq in Congressional Testimony

• June 13, 2014 5:00 am


Obama administration officials spoke of bright days ahead for Iraq in June 2011 during a hearing about the country's future following withdrawal of American troops, which was completed that December.

Now, as Iraq faces total collapse with an al Qaeda offshoot threatening to seize Baghdad, they could hardly look more naive.

The White House has spoken glowingly of Iraq as a major national security success with the ending of U.S. troop presence there, but the country lies in total disarray after another al Qaeda-linked group seized control of Mosul Tuesday. NBC reporter Richard Engel described the dire circumstances facing Iraq Thursday on MSNBC, saying that ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) is a "disgusting organization" that's still been able to attract less radical allies within the country. The key city of Fallujah, which U.S. troops waged two hard-fought battles to win, fell to al Qaeda in January.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told CNN on Thursday the government has "taken a number of steps to push back the terrorists," but the fall of Mosul was a "major security setback."

But on June 1, 2011, then-Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Middle East Colin Kahl painted an optimistic picture of the Iraqi security force's ability to maintain control over the country during a hearing entitled "Preserving Progress." Kahl stated that ever since they took the lead on security operations in 2009, they had more "capably embraced" the role with each passing month.

"We need to be clear that the Iraqis are very much in charge," Kahl said. "And they simply no longer need such large numbers of U.S. forces to help them keep the violence in check."

"Iraq still faces dangerous and determined enemies, but it is important to emphasize that these enemies do not have the support of the Iraqi people, and these attacks have not sparked a return to widespread insurgency or communal civil war," he added. "Moreover, despite these recent attacks, the underlying security situation remains strong."

Kahl said the administration had assessed that the Iraqi security forces will have "pretty good capabilities in terms of internal defense."

"Iraq has gone now through a period of instability following the 2003 invasion, but it has come out of that and is now on the right trajectory," he said.

Then-Iraq Transition Coordinator for the State Department Patricia Haslach called the time "right for this transition" and one "vital to our national interest."

"This transition is one of the most important international endeavors that the United States is undertaking, and its success or failure will have global implications," she said. "We cannot fail."

Iraq, she added, was poised to become "a political and economic leader in the Middle East region. "

"As the Middle East faces steep challenges and an unknown future, Iraq must take center stage as a beacon of democracy and an anchor of U.S. support for the region," she said in her opening testimony. "Countries in the region and around the world look to our efforts in Iraq to assess the sincerity with which we approach the Arab world, and the people of the Middle East and North Africa look to Iraq as an example of what is possible in the region."

White House reporter Jonathan Karl challenged spokesman Jay Carney Thursday on whether the administration could claim Iraq as a success story at this point. Carney could not offer a direct reply.

[H/T Elliott Abrams]

Published under: Iraq, Obama Administration