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Fallout Continues from Leak of Post-2011 US Military Presence in Iraq

The news that the President has settled on 3,000 trainers to stay in Iraq past the assigned 2011 withdrawal date, first reported by Fox News, was subsequently confirmed by other outlets. And unlike Fox News, these stories are being reported more accurately.

The Obama administration is considering leaving about 3,000 American troops in Iraq after this year, rejecting more ambitious Pentagon options that would have deployed 10,000 or more military personnel, two U.S. officials said Tuesday.

The White House has made it clear to Pentagon officials and military commanders that it wants to retain only a skeletal force in Iraq, primarily to train the nation’s military and police. Even the smaller number is subject to approval by Iraqi officials, who have final say over the presence of U.S. troops in their country.

The scaled-down proposal would allow President Obama to say that he has fulfilled his pledge to end U.S. involvement in the Iraq war and bring home most American troops. But the internal debate has created tension between the White House and some military commanders, who argued that even a scaled-down U.S. role requires a military force large enough to protect itself […]

As of last month, about 46,000 U.S. troops were deployed in Iraq. Unless the two governments agree to a continuing U.S. troop presence, all but a few will be withdrawn by year’s end under a 2008 agreement reached with the Iraqis by the George W. Bush administration.

Thanks to the LA Times for mentioning that there’s already a signed agreement to withdraw all US forces from Iraq (although they throw in “all but a few,” which is not true at all).

Given that this force would not even include the large amount of personnel deployed at the sprawling US Embassy in Baghdad, or private military contractors, I’d say force protection is a complete red herring. The larger point is that 3,000 trainers, when the Iraqi security forces have been undergoing “training” in one form or another for the last eight years, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in a country as large as Iraq. I suspect this is cover for a JSOC-type covert operations force that can use the presence in Iraq as a regional launching pad for whatever covert attacks that get greenlit.

Predictably, the neocon defenders have criticized the audacity of the US mostly adhering to an agreement signed by George W. Bush. The Three Musketeers of John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman sent out a joint statement criticizing the proposal for just 3,000 in Iraq post-2011, saying that the presence should be much higher. They were joined by the likes of Dianne Feinstein:

“I think it’s a mistake,” Feinstein told reporters when asked about the report. “I think we now see groups attacking, and dozens of people being killed in each attack. And I think the situation needs to be secured, and it isn’t right now.”

Asked what would need to happen in order for her to be confident in such a significant drawdown, Feinstein said that it would take “the eradication of some of these terrorists, new groups.”

“I think it’s too fast; that’s my view,” she said. “As you read about these attacks, there are some serious things going on there.”

I think that’s the entire point, Senator. There are 46,000 troops in Iraq RIGHT NOW and they haven’t been able to stop the attacks. Why would 27,000 or 10,000 or even 3,000 do better? Unless Feinstein is calling for another surge, and she should say so if she is, she’s admitting that a US military presence is irrelevant to the low-level political violence unleashed by the 2003 invasion. That will run its course regardless of our presence. And the truth is that this violence is not at the levels of 2006, despite much less US forces in the country. Why, it’s as if our presence fuels violence!

That would certainly be the outcome if the US were to stay. Muqtada al-Sadr and his allies have been pretty consistent on this front. Sadrist lawmaker Jawad Kadhim Jubori said in the LAT story that “The attitude of the Sadr movement has been very clear since the beginning: It is the refusal to keep any American soldier on Iraqi land. And this is the will of the Iraqis, and not just the will of the movement supporters.” Staying would trigger fighting from the Sadrists, and a mass popular movement similar to Egypt, with the US government in the Hosni Mubarak role.

The Kurds have wished for a continued US presence, hyping the possibility of civil war in the event of a pullout. But that prospect exists if we stay, as well.

This leak about a small post-2011 presence appears to be designed to put pressure on the Iraqi leadership to make an agreement and pass it through Parliament. God forbid the US media understand that two parties have to make this decision. And it would be nice if signed binational agreements meant a damn thing anymore.

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David Dayen

David Dayen