BAGHDAD (AP) — The United States is abandoning plans to keep U.S. troops in Iraq past a year-end withdrawal deadline, the Associated Press has learned. The decision to pull out fully by January effectively will end more than eight years of U.S. involvement in the Iraq war, despite ongoing concerns about its security forces and the potential for instability.
The decision ends months of hand-wringing by U.S. officials over whether to stick to a Dec. 31 withdrawal deadline that was set in 2008 or negotiate a new security agreement to ensure that gains made and more than 4,400 American military lives lost since March 2003 do not go to waste.
In recent months, Washington has been discussing with Iraqi leaders the possibility of several thousand American troops remaining to continue training Iraqi security forces. A Pentagon spokesman said Saturday that no final decision has been reached about the U.S. training relationship with the Iraqi government.
Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Throughout the discussions, Iraqi leaders have adamantly refused to give U.S. troops immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts, and the Americans have refused to stay without it. Iraq’s leadership has been split on whether it wanted American forces to stay. Some argued the further training and U.S. help was vital, particularly to protect Iraq’s airspace and gather security intelligence. But others have deeply opposed any American troop presence, including Shiite militiamen who have threatened attacks on any American forces who remain.
“At the same time we’re building a comprehensive partnership with Iraq under the Strategic Framework Agreement including a robust security relationship, and discussions with the Iraqis about the nature of that relationship are ongoing,” Mr. Little said.
The Strategic Framework Agreement allows for other forms of military cooperation besides U.S. troops on the ground. Signed at the same time as the security accord mandating the departure deadlines, it provides outlines for the U.S.-Iraqi relationship in such areas as economic, cultural and security cooperation.
Iraqi lawmakers excel at last-minute agreements. But with little wiggle room on the immunity issue and the U.S. military needing to move equipment out as soon as possible, a last-minute change between now and Dec. 31 seems almost out of the question.
Regardless of whether U.S. troops are here or not, there will be a massive American diplomatic presence.View Entire Story
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