There has been a flurry of conflicting stories over the weekend on the future of U.S. troops in Iraq. The U.S. plainly, desperately, wants to keep some troops on Iraqi soil, for several reasons: preserve the gains won there since 2003 in U.S. blood and treasure (along with Iraq’s), keep an eye on neighboring Iran, try to get more Iraqi oil flowing, and continue the Iraqi military’s reliance on the U.S. military by selling it weaponry that will require U.S. help for decades to come.
The U.S. would like some 5,000 U.S. troops to stay in Iraq beyond 2011, but is ready to trim its force down to 160 U.S. embassy guards from the current 40,000 if Iraq doesn’t want them hanging around. There are bitter divisions inside the Iraqi government, and any U.S. presence beyond year’s end requires the approval of the Iraqi parliament. So while Kim Dozier’s Associated Press story over the weekend — that the U.S. is abandoning its plans to remain in Iraq after New Year’s — may be accurate right now, it could still be reversed if Iraq asks U.S. troops to stay, and grants them some form of immunity from the Iraqi legal system. This tale will continue to bubble along until the bubbly is uncorked.