Sources: U.S. offers to leave 10,000 troops in Iraq
The White House is prepared to keep as many as 10,000 U.S. troops in Iraq after the end of the year, amid growing concern that the planned pullout of virtually all remaining American forces would lead to intensified militant attacks, according to U.S. officials.
Tribune Washington bureau
WASHINGTON — The White House is prepared to keep as many as 10,000 U.S. troops in Iraq after the end of the year, amid growing concern that the planned pullout of virtually all remaining American forces would lead to intensified militant attacks, according to U.S. officials.
Keeping troops in Iraq after the deadline for their departure at the end of December would require the agreement of Iraq's deeply divided government, which is far from certain.
The Iraqis so far have not made a formal request for U.S. troops to remain, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
Some powerful Iraqi political forces are staunchly opposed to a continued U.S. presence.
The Obama administration has been debating how large a force to propose leaving in Iraq. It is making its proposal now in hopes of spurring a request from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government, and to give the Pentagon time to plan, the officials said.
The troops would be based around Baghdad and in a small number of other strategic locations, the officials said.
Noting that Iraq had not asked yet for troops to stay, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said, "There's only so much time here available for the Iraqi government to make such a request. If they do, we will consider it. Otherwise, we are keeping on schedule."
Unless Iraq asks for a change in its 2008 agreement with the administration of President Bush, only about 200 active-duty troops will remain as advisers after December, the officials said. More than 166,000 American troops were in Iraq in 2007 when the U.S. military presence there peaked. There are about 46,000 remaining.
The idea of keeping any U.S. forces in Iraq remains deeply controversial, both in Iraq and the United States. Al-Maliki faces pressure from hard-line members of his governing coalition not to extend the U.S. presence, and some American lawmakers strongly favor bringing all the remaining troops out on schedule.
As a candidate in 2008, Barack Obama promised to end the conflict in Iraq, and after taking office, he pledged to abide by the deadline. But administration officials have also signaled that they would be open to discussions with al-Maliki's government about extending the U.S. presence.
Though violence in Iraq has greatly diminished in recent years, car bombs and other attacks remain an almost daily occurrence. Iraqi and U.S. officers say that Iraq continues to need assistance, both in dealing with insurgents and in training its army and air force.
Iraqi government officials are divided on whether the Americans should stay. Of the country's major ethnic and religious groups, only the Kurds have come out publicly in favor of U.S. forces staying.
In private, al-Maliki is thought to want troops to stay, but his Islamic Dawa Party released a statement in mid-June declaring that American troops should honor the agreement and leave at the end of the year.
Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's political movement is strongly opposed to the presence of U.S. forces and probably would present the biggest obstacle to large numbers of troops remaining. Al-Maliki needs al-Sadr's support to stay in office.
Political leaders are expected to convene a meeting this week to discuss power-sharing in the Iraqi government, but they are also likely to broach the issue of whether U.S. troops should be authorized to stay on.
Sami Askari, a senior member of al-Maliki's State of Law alliance who played a key role in negotiating the 2008 agreement, said political rifts in Iraq make it more difficult this time to keep U.S. forces in the country.
"Maliki in 2008 took the lead on pushing everyone to agree on this; now he can't do that. Why would he do that and pay the political price?" Askari said. "It is madness for him to do this without being assured of support from others."
U.S. officials are concerned that Iraqi politicians will make a decision only after most or all of the remaining U.S. troops already have left, forcing the White House into the politically difficult position of deciding whether to send some back.
Car bombing: A combined car bomb and roadside bombing in a town north of Baghdad killed at least 35 people and wounded 47 on Tuesday, Iraqi officials said. Taji is a Sunni-dominated town about 12 miles north of Baghdad, and the attack followed a June 23 strike when bombs ripped through Shiite neighborhoods in Baghdad, killing at least 40 people.
Fourth attack: Officials also said that a late Monday night rocket attack on the city's heavily fortified Green Zone killed four and wounded 10 people. The attack came as Americans were celebrating Fourth of July at the U.S. Embassy, which is inside the Green Zone.
Oil exports: Iraq, which has the world's fifth-largest oil reserves, exported 2.273 million barrels of oil a day in June, the most since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of the country, according to Falah al-Amri, chairman of the State Oil Marketing Organization. The country expects current oil output to rise to more than 3 million barrels a day by the end of this year, compared with 2.4 million barrels a day in December.
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