Iraq Withdrawal Is Happening On Schedule, After All

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The Obama administration is reconsidering its plans to leave 5,000 troops in Iraq after its end-of-year deadline for withdrawal, the Associated Press says.

Instead of a remaining force of several thousand, just 160 troops will remain, to staff the country's embassy in Baghdad, the AP report says. The new plans "could allow future, limited U.S. military training missions if requested."

It's a reversal of a reversal, in fact. The Obama administration had set a hard deadline for withdrawal by 2012, but backed off of that goal over the summer citing security concerns. The Atlantic covered that story at the time as a broken campaign, and post-campaign promise.

The Christian Science Monitor reported in September that the Pentagon was "angling" for even more troops to stay behind in Iraq after the end of 2011. So what changed? Did the Iraqi government say it didn't need American assistance in maintaing security? Is it a desire to be able to campaign on the boys being home?

The sticking point: No immunity from Iraqi for U.S. soldiers after 2011.

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 split on whether it wanted American forces to stay. Some argued the further training and U.S. help was vital, particularly to protect Iraq's airspace and gather security 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.

Could it also be related to the problem of withdrawing itself? The Washington Post reported that the military has stopped releasing information about the functions it is transferring to Iraqi control, in part because they worry that doing so is telegraphing insurgents and suggesting targets to attack.

“As bases close, some adversaries try to take advantage and attack us. . . . Some attacked on transition day,” Maj. Gen. Thomas W. Spoehr, deputy commanding general of U.S. Forces-Iraq, said during a telephone news conference from Iraq.

Spoehr said the departure schedule, which once was publicized to assure the Iraqi public about the U.S. troop withdrawal , is now kept “under wraps.”

The U.S. military once occupied more than 500 bases in Iraq. It now has 22. The Iraqi military controls most former U.S. bases.

There are still about 41,000 American troops in Iraq. It's complicated and expensive to bring them and their equipment home.

Last week, for example, it took 13,900 trucks in 399 convoys to move equipment, fuel and food in and out of Iraq, according to Maj. Gen. Jeffrey S. Buchanan, the chief spokesman for U.S. forces in Iraq. Spoehr said that, on average, some 520 soldiers are leaving every day. He said that about 25,000 pieces of equipment, both military and non-military in nature, have been sold or turned over to Iraq as surplus. In September alone, 1,100 pieces of heavy equipment, much of it for construction, have been deemed excess to military needs and sold at discount prices to U.S. states. About 23,000 U.S. military vehicles remain in Iraq. Spoehr said that it costs about $40,000 to ship a 40-foot container back to the United States, and that has encouraged the military to leave material in Iraq. He said that some 142 million pounds of equipment had been sold as scrap over the past year, 6.8 million pounds in September alone.

So is the new hard withdrawal deadline a change in administration policy? Or the latest attempt to put those who would attack the withdrawing occupation force off the scent?

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.