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article imageIraq’s Maliki opens door to continued US troop presence

By Lynn Herrmann     May 11, 2011 in Politics
Washington - Amid growing pressure from US politicians, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has opened the door for talks with rival political leaders in his country concerned over a US troop presence in the country past the 2011 deadline, with repercussions likely.
A Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the US and Iraq now appears to be crumbling, as Maliki said in a news conference on Wednesday the decision on whether troops stay is a major challenge: “Since it is a big national issue, I will call all the leaders of blocs to discuss: Do you want troops to remain, how many and where?” according to Reuters Africa.
“If I get their approval, then I will say yes, and if they reject it, I will say no,” he added.
Renewed debate among US politicians since Osama bin Laden’s murder in Pakistan is now leading to a growing chorus, including some in the Obama administration, of the need for an increased military presence in the region, likely keeping US troops in Iraq past 2011.
Speaker of the House John Boehner visited Iraq earlier this month, and during his trip said: “I think a small residual force should remain and the sooner the administration engages the Iraqi government, I think the better off we are going to be,” according to Inter Press Service.
The Prime Minister’s announcement comes just weeks after Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr issued a statement at an anti-American protest attended by tens of thousands of his followers, denouncing a US troop presence after the departure date set for the end of this year.
The statement, read by an aid to the protesters, asked: “What if the invading forces don’t leave our land? What if they stay on in another form?...If their companies, embassies have the invading American flags waving over them. Will you remain silent?” McClatchy News reported.
Sadr and his Sadrist bloc is seen as a vital part to Maliki’s current leadership position and a thorn in the side of the US. After disputed elections last year, Malaki won the current Prime Minister role only after Sadr, a long-time political enemy, agreed to support him.
Because of Iraq’s fragile government and instability over security issues, Maren Leed, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, notes a strong contingency in the Pentagon is in support of ongoing military operations in Iraq, telling Huffington Post: “They really would like to see some kind of arrangement worked out as soon as possible -- to minimize the cost, allow the argument to play out and figure out how to play it down in the best possible way.
Leed pointed out the American government is attempting to push a sense of urgency over the Iraqis to make a decision. “It's going to take some spade work to be certain, on this end, in lots of different camps. They'd like to know what they're selling, sooner rather than later. So I think there's a fair amount of urgency,” he continued.
That sense of urgency seems to be wearing thin on some US politicians, revealing growing pressures on a government drowning in a federal deficit. Last month, on CBS’s Face the Nation, Sen. Lindsey Graham, (R-SC) said: “If we’re not smart enough to work with the Iraqis to have 10,000 to 15,000 American troops in Iraq in 2012, Iraq could go to hell.” He added it was vital that the US “make sure Iran doesn’t interfere with the Iraqi sovereignty.”
In February, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a former presidential candidate and leading war-hawk in the GOP, said: “I think it’s also obvious that the Iraqi military doesn’t have a lot of the technological capability that they need to combat to this kind of insurgency that is still out there,” HuffPo reports.
Some top military leaders have indicated they support a large military presence in Iraq beyond the SOFA (pdf) deadline.
In April, Joint Chief of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen called on Iraqi leaders to make a decision on US troop presence within weeks, stating: “Time is running short for any negotiations to occur,” according to the New York Times.
Mullen added a continued US troop presence in Iraq was a welcoming thought: “Should the Iraqi government desire to discuss the potential for some U.S. troops to stay, I am certain my government will welcome that dialogue.”
Lawrence J. Korb, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, wrote in a recent op-ed for the Boston Globe that the US should leave Iraq on time. “First, the Iraqis never wanted us to invade their country, and most believe that the deaths of several hundred thousand of their fellow citizens and the widespread destruction of the country in order to remove Saddam Hussein was not worth it.”
Korb added that, should the American occupation of Iraq remain, violence will likely increase, especially if Sadr withdraws his support for Maliki. He noted that if the US reneges on the agreed-upon withdrawal date, it will only bolster Al Qaeda’s position on the occupier’s true intentions in the region.
More about War, Troop withdrawal, ongoing, Administration, Obama administration
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