Tags: Analysis: The Politics of Extending Troops in Iraq

Analysis: The Politics of Extending Troops in Iraq

Monday, 18 July 2011 12:25 PM EDT

Both the Maliki government and the Pentagon privately believe a U.S. troop presence in Iraq is needed after December but senior Obama officials and Prime Minister Maliki are not prepared to call for a troop extension.

Reuters reported today that Iraq wants the United States to keep several thousand military trainers behind after the December 31 troop withdrawal deadline but will not ask for an extension of U.S. troops. The difference is that the military trainers would be former U.S. military personnel working as contractors. This news comes on the heels of Secretary of Defense Panetta’s visit to Iraq last week when he said concerning the Maliki government’s inability to clearly state whether it wants U.S. troops to remain “Do you want us to stay, don’t you want us to stay? . . . dammit, make a decision.”

U.S. military and Iraqi officials have made vague statements over the past few months about possibly extending the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq past the December deadline. Secretary Panetta tried to discuss the issue with the Iraqi government last week and Prime Minister Maliki said he would consult with the country's various political factions and decide by August on whether to ask the U.S. military to keep some troops in Iraq.

According to the New York Times, the Maliki government would prefer informally extending U.S. troops without seeking approval from the Iraqi parliament, which probably would not approve an extension. The Obama administration is insisting on the parliament ratifying a troop extension to secure legal immunities for U.S. soldiers who remain. Extending U.S. troops in Iraq is wildly unpopular with most of the Iraqi public except for the Kurds. The Kurds fear Arab violence against them if after U.S. troops depart and strongly support maintaining a U.S. military presence.


Asking for military trainers and not active duty U.S. troops may be Prime Minister Maliki’s way to keep a U.S. presence in Iraq while overcoming objections at home and from the Obama administration. While contract military trainers would not need the approval of parliament, Maliki’s political adversaries and Iran probably would not recognize a distinction between U.S. trainers and U.S. troops and would strongly oppose their presence. U.S military officials recently stepped up their criticism of Iran for arming Shiite militias that have been attacking U.S. troops. Such attacks are certain to continue and probably will expand against U.S. military trainers if they are sent to Iraq in lieu of an extension of U.S. troops after 2011.

The White House badly wants the withdrawal to go forward for political reasons and is not going to object too hard if Iraqi officials do not ask for a troop extension. It would be an uphill battle for Secretary Panetta and other senior Pentagon officials to convince the White House to support a troop extension and Panetta’s recent statements in Iraq may not be completely in synch with the President and his political advisers.

[Fred Fleitz recently joined Newsmax after a 25 year career with the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the US Department of State, and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence staff. He served as Chief of Staff to Ambassador John Bolton and as a Senior Adviser to former House Intelligence Ranking Member Peter Hoekstra.]

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Analysis: The Politics of Extending Troops in Iraq
Monday, 18 July 2011 12:25 PM
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