Monday, December 20, 2010

IRAQ - Iraq Politics 2011 and American Troops

"Politics in Iraq Casts Doubt on a U.S. Presence After 2011" by STEVEN LEE MYERS, THOM SHANKER and JACK HEALY; New York Times 12/18/2010


The protracted political turmoil that saw the resurgence of a fiercely anti-American political bloc here is casting new doubt on establishing any enduring American military role in Iraq after the last of nearly 50,000 troops are scheduled to withdraw in the next 12 months, military and administration officials say.

Given Iraq’s military shortcomings, especially in air power, intelligence coordination and logistics, American and Iraqi officials had long expected that some American military presence, even if only in an advisory role, would continue beyond 2011. That is the deadline for a troop withdrawal negotiated under President George W. Bush more than three years ago and adhered to, so far, by President Obama.

Even as contingency planning for any lasting American mission has quietly continued in Baghdad and at the Pentagon, however, the shifting political landscape in both countries has made it increasingly possible that the 2011 withdrawal could truly be total, the officials said. Both Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq and Mr. Obama, struggling to retain the support of their political bases, have repeated their public vows to adhere to the deadline.

The military and administration officials emphasized in interviews that the White House had made no final decision on whether any troops might remain beyond the scheduled withdrawal — and that it would not even consider one unless asked by Mr. Maliki’s government.

The question is so politically delicate — here and in Washington — that officials would speak only on condition of anonymity. Further, they say the topic has not been broached in detail even in recent private meetings between senior Iraqi and American officials, including one in Baghdad last week between Mr. Maliki and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen.

“Maliki can’t start asking right now for a large, extended American footprint,” a senior administration official said. “First of all, there is no Maliki government. And second, it would introduce a hugely controversial issue just when he doesn’t need it.”

It could remain so for many more months, even after Mr. Maliki completes his cabinet of ministers and submits it to the new Parliament, now scheduled to happen within a week. That has raised anxieties among American officials and military commanders presiding over what the Obama administration calls a “responsible drawdown” to end the American war here.

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