The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) the US agreed to in 2008 promised to have all US troops out of Iraq by the end of December of this year. In August, the Obama Administration was playing up a redefinition of the troops as “non-combat troops” as an end to the war.
But forget about December, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates insisted on Friday that US troops might still remain in Iraq for “years to come” and that it was possible that they could negotiate a “continuing advise-and-assist role” that would keep troops in Iraq forever.
But first the SOFA has to be done away with. It is to that end that Secretary Gates is in Iraq now, and pressuring the Maliki government to act quickly in approving the continuation of the 8+ year occupation into 2012 and beyond.
Gates reported in February that the Obama Administration had “interest” to continue the military presence beyond December, but more and more officials are talking openly about it as the preferred option. Prime Minister Maliki had been ruling out the continuation in late 2010, but has been largely mum on the question recently.