The government of Iraq, at the highest level, is reportedly meeting this week to consider whether or not to allow a substantial number of US troops to remain in Iraq beyond the end of 2011, when they’re scheduled to depart.
That scheduled departure isn’t President Obama’s timetable; rather it is the result of a framework established in 2008 by George W. Bush. Nevertheless, the United States would like to maintain forces in Iraq, and dangerously it’s looking more and more like their mission would be to confront Iran.
Yesterday Mr. Surge, Senator John McCain, said that the United States ought to keep at least 13,000 troops in Iraq indefinitely. “I’m talking 10,000–13,000 specifically for intelligence capabilities, air capabilities and also as a peacekeeping force up in the disputed areas around Kirkuk and that area. I think there is a compelling case.”
McCain added, speaking with the Financial Times:
“The United States has got to come forth with our proposal as to what we think they need and then I believe that it’s very possible – and I emphasize possible – that the Iraqis could then decide unanimously that they want the residual US presence, which would certainly be non-combat and would certainly be largely technical.”
It isn’t like McCain is alone. The Obama administration, too, would like to keep troops in Iraq. But Prime Minister Maliki is under enormous pressure from Iran, from Iran-allied forces in Iraq, and from some Iraqi nationalists not to allow a residual US role, and his coalition partner, Muqtada al-Sadr, is staunchly opposed. In recent weeks, there has been a strong increase in violence directed against American forces in Iraq, and much of it is apparently directed or supported by a host of Iranian-backed Shia militias, including Kataib Hezbollah, Ahl ul-Haq, and Sadr’s Promised Day Brigade. Yesterday, a top American general and the US ambassador both blamed Iran. Said Ambassador James Jeffrey:
“There is no doubt this is Iranian. We’re seeing more lethal weapons, more accurate weapons, more longer-range weapons. And we’re seeing more sophisticated mobile and other deployment options, we’re seeing better trained people.”
General Lloyd Austin said that the stuff is “coming in from Iran, we’re certain of that.”
Maliki has ordered a sweeping crackdown against Sadr’s forces and other Shia militias in Baghdad, in Maysan province near the border with Iran, and elsewhere. But Maliki, too, is closely tied to Iran, and he’s trying to balance strong pressure from Washington and Tehran. A major failure of the Obama administration has been its inability to reach an agreement with Iran on stabilizing Iraq, and Iran is not above using pressure tactics in Iraq against the United States.