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Obama's Iraq announcement fuels debate at home

By David Ariosto, CNN
updated 8:22 PM EDT, Fri October 21, 2011
President Obama said Friday that the United States will withdraw almost all its troops from Iraq by year's end.
President Obama said Friday that the United States will withdraw almost all its troops from Iraq by year's end.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: 36% of Americans think the Iraq war has been worth fighting for
  • NEW: 41% of the public think U.S.-led war in Afghanistan has been worth the costs
  • NEW: Obama's election campaign said Mitt Romney never put forth "a plan to end the war in Iraq"
  • Romney called Obama's plan in Iraq an "astonishing failure"

(CNN) -- The White House decision to withdraw virtually all U.S. troops from Iraq by year's end would make good on a 2008 campaign pledge by then- presidential candidate Barack Obama, but it's also likely to draw a range of opinions as part of the current election season.

"As for U.S. domestic politics, most of the American public is fed up with our involvement in Iraq," Middle East Institute scholar David Mack said.

A recent poll released in October seems to support the former U.S. ambassador's comments.

Only 36% of Americans think the Iraq war has been worth fighting for, according to a Pew Research Poll. That compares with 41% of the public who think the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan has been worth the costs.

"It's fine for (Sen. John McCain) and for (Sen. Lindsey Graham) to make a case for this," Mack said. "But the American public made it very clear."

Others question the wisdom of the president's announcement Friday and whether it reflects a precipitous withdrawal that could ultimately harm U.S. interests abroad.

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Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, a GOP presidential hopeful, said the move comes amid "Obama's astonishing failure to secure an orderly transition in Iraq" and that "the American people deserve to hear the recommendations that were made by our military commanders in Iraq."

Obama's election campaign was quick to respond, saying "the president kept his pledge to the nation" and that the former governor never put forth an actual plan to end the war.

"Mitt Romney's foreign policy experience is limited to his work as a finance executive shipping American jobs overseas," campaign press secretary Ben LaBolt said a written statement.

Following the announcement, Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said he respectfully disagrees with the president's decision.

"I feel all we have worked for, fought for, and sacrificed for is very much in jeopardy by today's announcement," he said. "I hope I am wrong and the president is right, but I fear this decision has set in motion events that will come back to haunt our country."

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, disagreed, saying she applauds "President Obama for a promise kept."

But McCain, R-Arizona, has said Obama's plans for withdrawal in Iraq and Afghanistan "is not the 'modest' withdrawal that I and others had hoped for and advocated."

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, meanwhile, said he was "prepared to support a continued presence of U.S. trainers in Iraq beyond the end of this year."

"But in light of Iraq's refusal to eliminate the possibility that U.S. troops would face prosecutions in Iraqi courts, President Obama has made the right decision," he added.

U.S.-Iraq talks broke down over the issue of legal immunity for U.S. troops, a senior U.S. military official with direct knowledge of the discussions told CNN this month.

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and other top brass have repeatedly said any deal to keep U.S. troops in Iraq beyond the withdrawal deadline would require a guarantee of legal protection for American soldiers.

But Iraqi leaders refused to agree to that, opening up the prospect of Americans being tried in Iraqi courts and subjected to Iraqi punishment.

Of the 39,000 troops in Iraq, only about 150 will remain to assist in arms sales, a U.S. official told CNN. The rest will be out of Iraq by December 31.

The Iraq war, which began in spring 2003, has left more than 4,400 Americans dead and killed countless Iraqis.

In Afghanistan, the remainder of the so-called "surge" force is scheduled to leave by September 2012, while the full American withdrawal is expected to take place by the end of 2014.

U.S. diplomats, however, have openly discussed the possibility of a much longer commitment in that country.

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