.................................The U.S. is abandoning plans to keep U.S. troops in Iraq past a year-end withdrawal deadline, The Associated Press has learned. The decision to pull out fully by January will effectively end more than eight years of U.S. involvement in the Iraq war, despite ongoing concerns about its security forces and the potential for instability.The decision ends months of hand-wringing by U.S. officials over whether to stick to a Dec. 31 withdrawal deadline that was set in 2008 or negotiate a new security agreement to ensure that gains made and more than 4,400 American military lives lost since March 2003 do not go to waste.In recent months, Washington has been discussing with Iraqi leaders the possibility of several thousand American troops remaining to continue training Iraqi security forces. A Pentagon spokesman said Saturday that no final decision has been reached about the U.S. training relationship with the Iraqi government.But a senior Obama administration official in Washington confirmed Saturday that all American troops will leave Iraq except for about 160 active-duty soldiers attached to the U.S. Embassy.A senior U.S. military official confirmed the departure and said the withdrawal could allow future but limited U.S. military training missions in Iraq if requested.Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
The US footprint in Iraq will continue to be large, however.
Many of the troops leaving Iraq will be stationed in Kuwait, ready to reenter Iraq at a moment's notice (in a kind of reversal of the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait).
Regardless of whether U.S. troops are here or not, there will be a massive American diplomatic presence.The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad is the largest in the world, and the State Department will have offices in Basra, Irbil and Kirkuk as well as other locations around the country where contractors will train Iraqi forces on U.S. military equipment they're purchasing.About 5,000 security contractors and personnel will be tasked with helping protect American diplomats and facilities around the country, the State Department has said.The U.S. Embassy will still have a handful of U.S. Marines for protection and 157 U.S. military personnel in charge of facilitating weapons sales to Iraq. Those are standard functions at most American embassies around the world and would be considered part of the regular embassy staff.
Update: Leon Panetta's Pentagon has rejected the AP story and deny that the decision to withdraw from Iraq has been made.Here is APF:
In a statement to reporters, Pentagon press secretary George Little denied the negotiations had collapsed, saying the Obama administration had not made any decisions on a future mission.It sounds as if Panetta is at war with the White House or State Department over the decision to withdraw.
“Suggestions that a final decision has been reached about our training relationship with the Iraqi government are wrong. Those discussions are ongoing,” Little said.
The United States wanted to build a “robust security relationship” with Iraq and the talks with Baghdad were focused on the “nature of that relationship,” he added.