- Iraqi political leaders agree a training mission is needed
- U.S. forces are set to withdraw from Iraq by December 31
- U.S. officials have said they expect Iraq to request some forces remain
Leaders from Iraq's political blocs met Tuesday at Iraqi President Jalal Talabani's office to discuss "the training mission of Iraqi forces by U.S. trainers," an Iraqi government spokesman said.
The political leaders agreed such a training mission is needed "to achieve the readiness of Iraqi troops as soon as possible," spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said in a written statement.
The current agreement between the United States and Iraq calls for the remaining U.S. troops -- more than 40,000 -- to withdraw by year's end. However, the United States expects the Iraqis to request that some troops remain to aid in training and security.
Last month, a senior Pentagon official said discussions within the Obama administration included a potential option for keeping 3,000 troops in Iraq next year. However, the official said no decisions had been made and discussions with the Iraqis continued. The official also said that the 3,000 figure was the low end of any "prudent planning" and, if approved by both sides, would allow for only minimal training to take place.
Iraqi political leaders have agreed that granting U.S. trainers legal immunity would be unnecessary, al-Dabbagh said Tuesday. "In addition to that, the training mission must be conducted on Iraqi installations only, and the training must be carried out in a way to ensure that the Iraqi armed forces will be a professional army" and operate under the Iraqi Constitution.
U.S. officials have long said they believe Iraq may need help with training, counterterrorism, air defense, command and control and intelligence operations. Any U.S. troops remaining to do those jobs might also need additional security forces.
The new Army chief of staff, Gen. Ray Odierno, said last month there would be risks in leaving a large force of U.S. troops in Iraq. A large U.S. force, he said, could provoke new claims of U.S. occupation and distract from efforts to develop the Iraqi military's abilities. He would not comment on reports the administration had decided to leave between 3,000 and 5,000 troops, should they be requested by Iraq.
Odierno, who served for more than four years in Iraq in various roles, including as commander of multinational forces, said the United States is leaving equipment in Iraq and transition and training on that equipment, as well as other training for Iraqi troops, was not complete as of last month.
"We need to probably be there to assist them at certain levels for a while," he said.