Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will continue negotiating with the US on a deal to keep a contingent of troops in Iraq, despite President Barack Obama’s announcement on Friday that all troops would be withdrawn in December.
Obama made the announcement after a deal to keep a few thousand US troops in Iraq beyond the December deadline to withdraw fell through at the Iraqi refusal to grant immunity to those forces. But Maliki apparently didn’t see it that way.
“Now that we have put this behind us, this will let us settle the issue of training,” Maliki said. “Iraqis will ask to resume talks over the number of trainers, the duration (of their stay in Iraq) and how those trainers will be used.”
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta also mentioned continuing talks to decide on a new role for US troops inside the country, again, despite Obama’s announcement. According to Panetta, once the “reduction of the combat presence” is completed they will enter into a new round of talks with the Iraqi government on keeping troops for military trainers and “security needs” going forward.
Maliki’s eagerness to renew talks is probably due to a lack of confidence in the Iraqi government and security forces to maintain stability in a still violent country. Car bombings and insurgent attacks are still a common occurrence, and foreign policy issues like encroaching Turkish troops and airstrikes into northern Iraq could be making Maliki and others nervous to be without US military and diplomatic muscle.
But there’s no indication that the US will stop making huge deals in arms and military equipment with Iraq or abandon a tacit security and protection deal with Iraq. Indeed, Obama referred to a new “normal relationship” with Iraq, probably referring to the kind that generalizes throughout the Middle East region characterized by large packages of economic and military aid to abusive governments and armies in exchange for conformity to US interests, as understood by Washington national security planners.