The U.S. wants to leave 3,000 troops, but there's little evidence it would be very helpful
Last month, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta was asked if the Iraqi government would request that U.S. troops stay in country beyond the mutually-agreed upon withdrawal date of December 31, 2011. Panetta replied: "My view is that they finally did say, 'Yes.' " Soon after, Ali al-Moussawi, adviser to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, corrected Panetta's statement and affirmed that there would be no discussion of extending U.S. troop presence in Iraq beyond year's end.
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Throughout the summer, U.S. military and civilian officials had hoped to keep 10,000 troops in Iraq for two reasons. First, the troops would prevent Iran from supplying improvised explosive devices and rockets to Shia militants in Iraq who have used such weapons to kill U.S. soldiers. However, as Lt. Gen. Mike Oates (ret.) former commander of U.S. forces in southern Iraq, stated: "There have been no reported incidents in which American forces have actually interdicted Iranian munitions while in transit." Thus, 10,000 troops would be assigned a mission that 166,000 could never accomplish.
Second, officials believed that maintaining 10,000 U.S. troops would mitigate Iran's long-term influence in Iraq. Here, the problem was that two brigades worth of American combat power--living under severe host-nation operational constraints--could not counterbalance Iran's overwhelming strategic interest in its neighbor's political makeup and extensive use of combination of hard and soft-power initiatives.