In a statement issued today, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced that all US forces would leave Iraq “as scheduled” at the end of the year, and that there will be no “permanent US bases” beyond that.
It was a dramatic change from just two weeks ago, when Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced that he was pretty sure that Iraq had already approved the extension of the US occupation beyond December, and is also quite a bit different from Maliki’s recent comments.
But the devil is in the details, and the statement is surprisingly light on those. The Iraqi PM was clearly averse to a parliamentary vote on keeping US troops in the nation, but has repeatedly insisted that US trainers are a different case, even if they are soldiers. He claims no vote would be necessary.
And talk of trainers was conspicuously absent in today’s statement, leaving open the possibility that Maliki is going to try to backdoor the occupation in by renaming them all “trainers,” much as President Obama allowed the continuation of combat beyond last year’s deadline by reclassifying all the troops as “non-combat” and then sending them out on combat missions.