Iraq signals willingness to allow some US forces to stay
Lawmakers in Baghdad agreed to negotiate a deal with the US that could see thousands of US forces in Iraq to train local forces.
Under intense US pressure, Iraqi leaders have agreed to start negotiations on keeping some American soldiers here in a deal that signaled a realignment of political alliances.Skip to next paragraph
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Long after most reporters had rushed home to beat the 1 a.m. curfew still in force, Deputy Prime Minister Rosh Nuri Shawis emerged to read a statement to state-run television saying the attendees recognized the need for further training of Iraqi military forces.
“All those present agreed to authorize the government of Iraq to start negotiations with the American side," he said, noting the talks would be for training under a long-term framework agreement signed with the US three years ago.
The agreement is the crucial first step, long sought by the US, in negotiations that could lead to several thousand US troops remaining in Iraq after the current status of forces deal expires at the end of this year. Although no numbers have been placed on the size of the force, officials have privately said that a figure of 10,000 was significantly larger than expected.
President Obama made withdrawing all US forces from Iraq a campaign pledge but in recent months, US officials have raised a variety of reasons – including threats from Iran – as why it would benefit both the US and Iraq to have a continued American military presence here.
Mr. Shawis laid out the deal that appeared to have been brokered to bring former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi back into the political fold to obtain the agreement – including reactivating a powerful new national security council that he was to have headed.
With Mr. Allawi reentering the political fray to provide backing on the issue, current Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is now believed to have enough support for the agreement to be passed by parliament, even with the opposition of the Sadrists.
The agreement also calls for Allawi’s Iraqiya party to choose a new defense minister while Mr. Maliki and his allies would decide on an interior minister. Those key posts have been vacant because of political disagreements since the coalition government was formed in December.
A US embassy official, speaking on condition of anonymity, says the training forces could conceivably continue to work with Iraqi special forces on counter-terrorism operations and provide intelligence help if the Iraqis asked. He says they had not yet discussed numbers of troops or specific areas for negotiation.