President Barack Obama announced Oct. 21 that he will be bringing US forces home from Iraq by year’s end. “I can report that, as promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year,” Obama said, referring to his campaign pledge in 2008. “After nearly nine years, America’s war in Iraq will be over.” But reading past the headline, of course, reveals a bunch of caveats about whether this really means that all US troops are coming home. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said that once US troops have left, negotiations might take place over how many of them might return, and when. “We’re prepared to meet their training needs,” he said. But you’ve got to read pretty deep into the Wall Street Journal account to get to the real deal:
The US will maintain between 4,000 and 5,000 security contractors in Iraq to protect American diplomats, White House officials said.
Several hundred US military personnel may remain with the Office of Security Cooperation in Iraq. Denis McDonough, a deputy national security adviser, said negotiations are continuing over a strategic agreement that could provide for the presence of the US personnel.
Ironically, the announcement comes at a time of growing violence in Iraq. A commentary on the Baghdad-based Azzaman states: “As US occupation troops prepare to leave the country by the end of the year, there has been a surge in deadly car and truck bombings attacks and assassinations, particularly in the capital Baghdad.”
The long-brewing crisis over the disputed oil rich city of Kirkuk may also be coming to a head. Azzaman reports that Arabs and Turkmen, who together make up the majority in Kirkuk, are calling for Kurdish militia forces to leave. Demonstrators marched in the city last week with placards hailing “Arab-Turkmen-Kurdish fraternity”—but protesting the presence of Kurdish militiamen.
A dispute has also broken out between Kurdish forces and the Baghdad government over a disputed enclave in Diyala province, just south of the recognized Kurdish autonomous region. We determined from UAE-based Zawya, a particularly vague and garbled Reuters report, and a little help from Maplandia that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has ordered the Kurdish flag to be removed from buildings at Mundhiriya and Khanaqin towns. These lie west of the Iranian frontier, but border security posts there appear to be in the hands of Kurdish forces. Hundreds of Kurds demonstrated in Khanaqin on Oct. 16, waving Kurdish flags and shouting slogans against Maliki. “We will not allow anyone to lower this flag but the Kurdish people,” Mahmoud Singari, the local Peshmerga commander told Reuters.