U.S. to pull troops from Iraq by Jan.

A U.S. soldier passes humvees lined up for shipment out of Iraq.
A U.S. soldier passes humvees lined up for shipment out of Iraq. (KHALID MOHAMMED / Associated Press)

Decision ends talk of more training for forces.

Posted: October 16, 2011

BAGHDAD - The United States is abandoning plans to keep its 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 continuing 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 no final decision had been reached about the U.S. training relationship with Iraq.

But a senior Obama administration official in Washington confirmed Saturday that all troops would 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.

Throughout the discussions, Iraqi leaders have adamantly refused to give U.S. troops immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts, and the Americans have refused to stay without it. Iraq's leadership has been divided over whether it wanted American forces to stay. Some argued the further training and U.S. help were vital, particularly to protect Iraq's airspace and gather intelligence. But others have deeply opposed any American troop presence, including Shiite militiamen who have threatened attacks on any American forces who remain.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has told U.S. military officials that he does not have the votes in parliament to provide immunity to the American trainers, the U.S. military official said.

A Western diplomatic official in Iraq said Maliki told international diplomats he would not bring the immunity issue to parliament because lawmakers would not approve it.

A White House spokesman, Tommy Vietor, said discussions with Iraq about the security relationship next year were continuing.

Pentagon press secretary George Little said the United States remained "committed to keeping our agreement with the Iraqi government to remove all of our troops by the end of this year."

"At the same time, we're building a comprehensive partnership with Iraq under the Strategic Framework Agreement, including a robust security relationship, and discussions with the Iraqis about the nature of that relationship are ongoing," Little said.

The Strategic Framework Agreement allows for other forms of military cooperation besides U.S. troops on the ground. Signed at the same time as the security accord mandating the departure deadlines, it provides outlines for the U.S.-Iraqi relationship in such areas as economic, cultural, and security cooperation.

Regardless of whether U.S. troops remain, there will be a massive American diplomatic presence.

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