Leon Panetta, a former CIA director and Defense secretary in the Obama administration, is criticizing the White House in a new book for not trying harder to reach an agreement to keep U.S. troops in Iraq after 2011.

"To my frustration, the White House coordinated the negotiations but never really led them," Panetta wrote in an excerpt published by Time magazine.


"Officials there seemed content to endorse an agreement if State and Defense could reach one, but without the President’s active advocacy, [Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri] al-Maliki was allowed to slip away."

In 2011, the Obama administration was negotiating with the Iraqi government on a deal to keep American troops in the country after the end of the U.S. military mission.  A deal though was never reached, and U.S. troops were withdrawn from the country at the end of the year.

The withdrawal of U.S. troops is now under added scrutiny following the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Republican lawmakers have criticized the failure to keep U.S. troops in the country, arguing that they could have prevented militant groups from securing a foothold.

Panetta, who was secretary of Defense at the time, said the White House did not push hard enough for an agreement.

The former Cabinet official said he pushed privately and publicly for a residual force and that military commanders agreed with him.

"But the President’s team at the White House pushed back, and the differences occasionally became heated," he wrote.  

"[T]hose on our side viewed the White House as so eager to rid itself of Iraq that it was willing to withdraw rather than lock in arrangements that would preserve our influence and interests."

Panetta acknowledged that Iraqi politics made it difficult for them to accept U.S. troops staying longer in the country. But he argued that the U.S. could have taken a tougher stand in negotiations.

"We had leverage," he wrote. "We could, for instance, have threatened to withdraw reconstruction aid to Iraq if al-Maliki would not support some sort of continued U.S. military presence."

President Obama has said that a deal could not be reached because of Iraqi opposition.

"What I just find interesting is the degree to which this issue keeps on coming up, as if this was my decision," Obama said in August. "[S]o let’s just be clear: The reason that we did not have a follow-on force in Iraq was because the Iraqis were — a majority of Iraqis did not want U.S. troops there, and politically they could not pass the kind of laws that would be required to protect our troops in Iraq."

But Obama has argued that even if U.S. troops had stayed, they would not have stopped the rise of ISIS. 

He pointed to al-Maliki's sectarian moves, which alienated Sunni leaders in the country, as creating a fertile terrain for ISIS to take hold.

"If they had done all those [divisive] things and we had had troops there, the country wouldn’t be holding together either," Obama said in August. "The only difference would be we’d have a bunch of troops on the ground that would be vulnerable."