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Monday, September 26, 2011     GET REAL

U.S., Iraq closing in on deal for skeleton force
of 3,000 troops by 2012

BAGHDAD — The United States is said to have again reduced its proposal for a continued military presence in Iraq.


Officials said the administration of President Barack Obama has relayed a request for a force of no more than 3,000 U.S. military personnel in Iraq in 2012. They said the force would include more than 500 trainers as well as support and combat troops.

"The proposal reached Baghdad in late September and is being discussed within the Cabinet," an official said.

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Officials said the U.S. proposal was relayed directly to Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki as part of intensified negotiations between Baghdad and Washington. They said Al Maliki has directed the talks over the U.S. military presence while excluding the military as well as the parliamentary opposition.

Over the last three months, Washington has significantly reduced its proposed military presence in Iraq after 2011. Officials said the initial U.S. proposal called for up to 20,000 American troops and trainers.

But Al Maliki was said to have rejected the proposals, and the United States decided to recommend a skeleton military force that would be bolstered by troops in neighboring Kuwait. The U.S. military presence in Iraq now numbers about 45,000, with plans to begin a major withdrawal over the next month.

A leading Iraqi parliamentarian asserted that Al Maliki was under pressure to reject any U.S. combat presence. Qassem Araji, a member of parliament's Security Committee, said Al Maliki was also opposed to U.S. forces around Kirkuk, an area disputed by Arabs and Kurds.

"The problem is the Kurdish desire for a U.S. presence in the disputed areas, and this has been opposed by Arabs and Turkmens," Araji said.

Officials said Al Maliki has agreed to a presence of 500 U.S. instructors to train the Iraqi military. But the prime minister opposed the U.S. demand that American military personnel be granted immunity from Iraqi prosecution.

"Right now, immunity remains the problem," Araji said.

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