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article imageUS contemplates 3,000 troops to remain in Iraq

By Lynn Herrmann     Sep 8, 2011 in Politics
Washington - Although no final decision has been made on the number of US troops remaining in raq after 2011, discussions between the Obama administration and Iraqi government include an option of keeping 3,000 forces there starting next year.
There are currently at least 46,000 troops in Iraq, excluding private security forces, and the current agreement dictates all troops will be withdrawn from there by the end of the year, but the US has been pressuring the war-torn country to allow troops to remain.
Shortly after assuming his new role as defense secretary, Leon Panetta issued a decree, telling Iraq, “damn it, make a decision” on allowing US troops to continue operating in the country.
An unnamed senior defense official told CNN, “Any kind of post-2011 presence would have to be agreed to by the Iraqis. The discussions with the Iraqis have hardly gotten off the ground, so anyone who says they know precisely how many, if any, U.S. troops will remain in Iraq beyond the end of the year is speculating.”
Although Fox News initially reported the 3,000 figure, saying Panetta had signed off on it, the defense secretary’s spokesman denied the report.
“Discussions with the Iraqis on our post-2011 strategic relationship are ongoing, and no decisions on troop levels have been made. We continue to proceed with troops withdrawals as directed by the president,” Little said in a statement, according to CNN.
On Tuesday, Panetta was sticking with the message that any US troop presence in 2012 Iraq will depend on the Iraqi government. Speaking to a group of reporters, Panetta said: “With regards to what our presence will look like on that, that is going to be a subject of negotiations with Iraqis.”
As violence in Iraq has shown a recent uptick, some members of Congress are quick to point out any troop reductions would be detrimental until the violence is “stopped.”
Among them, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, told CNN it was a “mistake” to have a troop reduction down to 3,000 at this time. “I think it’s too fast. There are some serious things going on there that need to be stopped.”
Also critical of the troop withdrawal was Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, and along with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina and Joe Lieberman I- Connecticut, issued a joint statement.
“This is dramatically lower than what our military leaders have consistently told us over the course of repeated visits to Iraq that they require, and that is needed to support Iraq in safeguarding the hard-won gains that our two nations have achieved at such great cost,” the senators said in the statement, CNN notes. “We are very concerned by the prospect that a follow-on force might lack the capabilities and authorities necessary to help Iraqis ensure stability across the disputed territories in northern Iraq, which we consider an essential mission.”
In August, Panetta announced the Iraqi government had made a decision on extending the US presence there. “My view is that they finally did say, ‘Yes,’” Panetta told the Stars & Stripes in an interview. As soon as the interview landed on the Internet, Iraq was quick to dispel the notion.
Ali Mussawi, a spokesman told Agence-France Press there had been no agreement. “We have not yet agreed on the issue of keeping training forces. The negotiations are ongoing, and these negotiations have not been finalized,” Politico reported.
Panetta also noted at that time he would abide by the Obama administration’s pledge to end military operations in Iraq, suggesting a new name for the US role in the oil-rich country. “That’s a commitment the president made to the country and I think he clearly wants to stand by that. The issue will then become what is the kind of training assistance and presence that Iraq feels it needs in order to be able to defend itself and secure itself,” according to Politico.
Regardless of whether one calls it a “military operation” or a “training assistance and presence,” in an interview with NPR on Wednesday, Panetta said the situation in Iraq will likely include a presence. “The Iraqis have made clear that they would like to discuss the possibility of, you know, of being able to have some trainers to continue to assist their forces, to be able to continue to try to make sure that al-Qaida does not return to a point where they can seriously undermine that country.”
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