Romney knocks Obama for ‘abrupt withdrawal’ of troops from Iraq

Mitt Romney on Monday attacked President Obama for an "abrupt withdrawal" of troops from Iraq, arguing in a major foreign policy address that U.S. gains in the country are being eroded. 

Romney said progress made by U.S. troops is being lost by a weakening democracy in the country, a resurgent al Qaeda and the rising influence of Iran there since U.S. troops left last year.

"America’s ability to influence events for the better in Iraq has been undermined by the abrupt withdrawal of our entire troop presence,” Romney said in his foreign policy speech at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Va. “The president tried — and failed — to secure a responsible and gradual drawdown that would have better secured our gains.”

Obama has touted the removal of troops from Iraq on the campaign trail. His 2008 campaign was built on criticism of the Bush administration's handling of the war, but Iraq and Afghanistan have been discussed sparingly during this year's campaign.

Romney, like many Republicans, criticized the Obama administration last year after it announced that all U.S. troops were leaving Iraq at the end of 2011.

Republicans argued that the administration should have maintained a U.S. presence there to help maintain security and train Iraqi forces, and that Obama failed in negotiations with Iraqi President Nouri al-Maliki.

U.S. troops left at the end of 2011 under the terms of an agreement signed by President George W. Bush. And Democrats point out that al-Maliki refused to give U.S. troops immunity in Iraqi courts, effectively killing any chance of renewing the deal.

In October 2011, Romney said that Obama was putting victory “at risk” by failing to secure “an orderly transition in Iraq.”

Romney’s new attack on Obama over Iraq is notable because Obama has made ending the war in Iraq a central tenet of his foreign policy credentials in the campaign. Obama frequently mentions the end of the Iraq war in stump speeches and has criticized Romney for wanting to keep troops there longer.

“Four years ago, I promised to end the war in Iraq. We did,” Obama said at the Democratic National Convention. “My opponent said it was ‘tragic’ to end the war in Iraq.”

Since the last U.S. troops departed at the end of 2011, Iraq has suffered an uptick in violence and a rise in sectarian tensions. Al-Maliki’s government has sentenced to death Vice President Tariq al Hashemi, a Sunni opposition leader who has sought refuge in Turkey, on terrorism charges.