It was more than clear that the Iraqi government, as currently constructed, would not possibly allow for an extended US military presence beyond the outlined date in the status of forces agreement at the end of 2011. There are serious obstacles, mainly that a significant bloc of the coalition has already announced they would collapsed the Iraqi government if this were allowed. So Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is searching for a work-around.

Iraq wants the United States to supply several thousand trainers for its military but is unlikely to ask Washington to extend its troop presence beyond a year-end deadline, Iraqi security and political sources say […]

To avoid angering allies and fuelling sectarian tension, Maliki, who is also acting defense and interior minister, may opt to bypass parliament and have his ministries sign agreements with Washington for 2,000-3,000 U.S. trainers, sources said.

“If the political blocs refused to announce their final decision on the U.S. withdrawal … Maliki would go it alone and sign memorandums of understanding with the American side,” said a senior lawmaker in Maliki’s State of Law party.

“In that case, he would not need to get the political blocs or the parliament to approve,” the lawmaker said.

This is the key. The Parliament won’t give Maliki what he appears to want; namely, the crutch of a US security presence to prop up his government. So by characterizing troops as trainers, he can get around the Parliamentary obstruction.

The support personnel for 3,000 trainers would bring the final number up to around 5,000 troops. And this may be why Iraq bought a bunch of warplanes and other weaponry from the US, to justify the need for the trainers.

Interestingly, this looks like make-work for Dyncorp and Xe (née Blackwater):

The trainers would not be active-duty military personnel but rather contractors with military or security backgrounds. They would not conduct combat operations, political sources said.

Iraq wants to do this with seven “training centers,” two in Baghdad and five outside the city. There’s already a huge US embassy that could be used in this capacity, at least in Baghdad.

So you’ve got Iraq asking for private military contractors beyond the 2011 withdrawal date. My question is, if the US military isn’t involved, why would the US have to agree to this at all? If Iraq wants to contract private military contractors, why can’t they just contract them? They have plenty of money. The US could provide foreign aid that may be shuttled into paying this, but that doesn’t have to be spelled out. Money is fungible.

My answer to the Iraqis if they want 3-5,000 private military contractors would be “here are a couple phone numbers.” Sadly, I don’t think this will be the Administration’s response.

David Dayen

David Dayen