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Yes, the Iraq drawdown is really happening

That the Obama administration has plans to drawn down to a tiny force in Iraq shouldn't be a surprise. The Iraqis haven't (yet) given America permission to stay.

By Staff writer / September 7, 2011

Fox News broke the story yesterday that the Obama administration is planning to cut the US military presence in Iraq to about 3,000 at the start of next year, prompting predictable posturing and hand-wringing from politicians and pundits in the beltway. One thing much of the media commentary has neglected so far? The role of Iraq's politicians and people in making this decision.

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There are currently more than 40,000 troops in Iraq, who in August enjoyed their first month without a man or woman killed in action since 2003. The uniformed US presence has been steadily declining since the peak of the US troop surge there in 2007, when about 150,000 troops were in country.

The current US Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Iraq, which authorizes the US presence and provides key assurances to America (for instance, that US troops will be subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, not Iraqi law) is set to expire on Dec. 31. The agreement mandated the US withdrawal from major combat roles in Iraqi cities in 2009, a step that was accordingly taken, and was designed to see a complete withdrawal of US forces by 2012 if a new agreement wasn't reached.

Though the United States has been pushing for a new SOFA for more than a year now, the Iraqi government has been loath to act. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki came to power thanks to a Shiite coalition that includes elements like anti-American preacher Muqtada al-Sadr, who has been demanding a full US withdrawal from the country.

Some prominent Iraqi politicians are eager for an extended US presence. Among them is Iyad Allawi, the former exile whose bid for the premiership was blocked by Mr. Maliki. But there have been no signs of Iraq's parliament or political class taking action to extend the US presence as the clock winds down. A force of 3,000 however, which would probably just play a training role and be confined to a handful of major Iraqi bases, can probably be finessed – particularly since Iraq remains eager for US military assistance and hardware.

The New York Times followed Fox with a similar story this morning, saying that Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, the American commander in Iraq, wants 14,000 to 18,000 troops to remain in Iraq. Last night, the White House denied that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is recommending a 3,000 member force, but it should be assumed that a plan for a force at least that small is currently in the drawer.


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