So plans are floating around the Pentagon — with the apparent blessing of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta — that call for a U.S. military force of only between 3,000 and 4,000 troops in Iraq starting next year. Under the existing deal with the Iraqi government — the one we helped install — all U.S. troops must be out by New Year’s Eve unless a new pact is hammered out between Baghdad and Washington.
There are already concerns coming from Congress that the proposed U.S. military trainer force is too paltry to help preserve the fledgling government of Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, never mind to help keep the peace, especially in the unsettled northern part of the country. But the Iraqi parliament has opposed any substantial U.S. troop presence on Iraqi soil post-2011, and there’s no guarantee it will assent to even this slimmed-down option.
That’s the bad news for U.S. commanders. The good news? The State Department plans to hire a 5,000-member security force to protect U.S. diplomats, guard embassy buildings and operate aircraft and armored vehicles (the U.S. military is loaning them 60 Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected monsters) to get around the country. But U.S. diplomats are drawing a line in the Iraqi sand. “The State Department does not envision itself,” Patrick Kennedy, a senior department official has said, “as firing 155-millimeter howitzers back at targets.”