Permanent U.S. bases in Iraq unlikely
A US-Iraq security pact won't set troop levels now, but it could set the stage for long-term strategy.
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There are currently about 157,000 troops in Iraq, and some analysts believe that even after a full political reconciliation leading to long-term stability, it may require as many as 80,000 US troops for at least several years to ensure the peace.Skip to next paragraph
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By way of comparison, the US maintains about 32,000 troops in Japan, another 27,000 in South Korea, more than 57,000 in Germany, and nearly 10,000 in Italy. Most analysts agree it will be years before Iraq can begin to be compared with those other countries.
While they may not want US forces in their country for the long term, Iraqi government officials need US assistance on many levels. For example, Iraq may want US forces to help defend the country against external attack.
These security needs may provide the US the necessary leverage to persuade Iraqi leaders to make the necessary political accommodations all seek, say some analysts.
"The biggest problem to political accommodation is the Iraqi government, and if we continue to give them an open-ended commitment, they have no incentive to make the decisions they have to make," says Colin Kahl, a professor of security studies at Georgetown University in Washington. Mr. Kahl says the US could leave as many as 60,000 to 80,000 troops in Iraq to provide security for say five years, and then could reduce that dramatically.
"Any presence like that over the long term, like a decade, is a bad idea," he says. "That will inevitably feed the narrative the jihadi movement has about our goals in the region."
"I do not believe Iraq in its current condition is the right place to envision a regional hub for future US forces," says Mr. O'Hanlon. "Our interests would not be well served by pursuing a long-term presence there for reasons having to do with issues and interests beyond Iraq; we have Kuwait and Qatar and the [United Arab Emirates] for that."
While the Democratic front-runners have called for US troops to begin coming home, they have not committed to a quick wholesale withdrawal. GOP front-runner John McCain said he'd be happy leaving forces in Iraq for at least 100 years.
"We've been in Japan for 60 years, we've been in South Korea for 50 years or so," he said at a campaign rally in New Hampshire earlier this month. So a long-term troop presence in Iraq " would be fine with me as long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed."
US troops abroad
Stationed on bases*:
•South Korea 27,014
•United Kingdom 9,825
•Cuba (Guantánamo) 932
*As of Sept. 2007
Source: Defense Department