It has been striking to watch the U.S. beg for months for the Iraqi government to request that at least some U.S. troops stay in Iraq beyond the end of this year. That’s the deadline set in a pact between the two nations, and U.S. forces will be able to stay after December 31, 2011, only at the request of the Baghdad government. But even though officials in both governments fear what could happen if all 46,000 U.S. troops now in Iraq pull out by then, the government of Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki has steadfastly refused to make such a request because of domestic political squabbles.
“Do they want us to stay, don’t they want us to stay?” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta asked some of the American troops still in Iraq Monday during his first overseas trip as Pentagon chief. “Damn it, make a decision.” (Talk about an infidel!) Veteran Pentagon analyst John McCreary, now out of government, said it’s not going to happen, given the political instability inside the country. “Any U.S. soldiers in Iraq on 1 January 2012,” he summed it up bluntly for readers of his NightWatch blog, “will be potential targets.”