Even given all these issues, however, it is not necessarily true that no U.S. troops will remain on Iraqi soil after December 31. Iraq and the United States still agree on American soldiers remaining to train Iraqi security forces. General Babakir Zebari, the Iraqi army’s chief of staff; al-Maliki; and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta have all issued statements to this effect.
Thus, despite the initial failure of talks, there is still a significant chance of a small contingent force of a few hundred troops — rather than a few thousand — staying as “trainers.”
Discussion is still taking place as the Iraqi government and the Obama administration try to find a compromise for a loophole on the immunity issues. U.S. soldiers would not have immunity status but trainers would get it by technically working for the State Department or NATO, which already has a 200-member training mission that will stay at least until 2013.
And if this solution fails, Iraq will probably hire ex-U.S. soldiers as civilian contractors to provide further training.
In light of all the misreporting in the media on these happenings, the most important point is that Iraq is setting the terms of its relationship with the United States as a sovereign nation, and is not acting at the behest of a foreign power, namely Iran.
Iran’s government has had no role in influencing the Iraqi political factions’ stances on the troop extension. In short, Baghdad is simply doing whatever it wants. A key underlying principle is simply this: Iraq doesn’t want to be either too dependent on the United States or on Iran.
The Iraqi government will use the United States to ensure its sovereignty vis-à-vis Iran while insisting on showing that it isn’t a U.S. protectorate. This strategy is likely to work and is not only in Iraq’s but also in the U.S. interest.
More from Michael Totten: Did We Lose in Iraq? No, and Here’s Why