Will they, won’t they ……. US Troops in Iraq

By Gavin Jones, Director of Iraq Business News, and Partner at consultancy firm Upper Quartile. This article was originally published on the Emerging Economics blog. Any opinions expressed are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Iraq Business News.

The US administration has declared again that it is “on track” to withdraw all US military forces from Iraq by the end of 2011. But, even as the White House publically pushes this position, many of the US policymakers are hoping that the Iraqi government will come and politely ask if some US troops could possibly stay. Just 10,000 or so would be good ……. and the cream on the cake ……… an extension of the SOFA [Status of forces agreement] providing that all important diplomatic cover “just in case” the military have to do something nasty. However a series of summertime incidents have now made it pretty clear this is unlikely to smoothly or without repercussions.

First, the PM Maliki came out openly (and very publically) against prolonging the SOFA and then started to define his view of the environment that he would be “happy” to see US forces extend their stay in Iraq – basically a limited number of military “instructors” restricted to doing things that the Iraqi’s forces cannot do by themselves i.e. intelligence, electronic security, that sort of stuff. Then at the beginning of August a key group of senior Iraqi politicians authorised Maliki to start negotiations with the US over the rules and regulations of any forces that might be invited to stay.

Leaving the start of the negotiations to the point where most US military units have been loading up planes with their equipment has not helped Iraq / US relations much.

And this means …………….

If all this goes through as looks likely then from January US forces in Iraq will be unable do anything that they are cannot describe as “training.” No-one is very clear what this will actually mean or how it will change the operations in Iraq but it will probably mean that US forces will not be patrolling and separating the Iraqi army and Kurdish militias in the north-central region; it will not be able to jump on any al-Qaeda remnants; or provide security for the massive US embassy in Baghdad or the hordes of US diplomats elsewhere in the country. So pretty restrictive and a big change.

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