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Iraq decides it wants the U.S. to stick around

Updated: August 8, 2013 6:54AM



The U.S. military can be an enormously useful institution, as the government of Iraq is discovering — or rediscovering — as renewed sectarian violence brings the country closer to civil war.

The violence is the deadliest — 761 Iraqis killed last month, according to the United Nations, and more than 2,000 since the beginning of April — close to the levels of violence in 2006 and 2007, which ended only with the surge in U.S. combat troops in 2007.

The last U.S. combat troops left Iraq in December 2011, leaving behind only about 100 military and civilian personnel at the U.S. Embassy to handle arms sales and liaison with the Iraqi government.

The U.S. wanted to leave behind a robust residual force of trainers and advisers as a backup force to the Iraqis’ regular army. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki insisted that the U.S. military staying behind be subject to Iraqi law instead of U.S. military law, a deal-breaker as far as the U.S. was concerned.

But now, as the AP diplomatically put it, “Iraq is open to greater American military cooperation.”

The Iraqis want to buy more U.S. arms, have them delivered quickly and be accompanied by U.S. training teams. The Iraqi government has become increasingly uneasy about the growing civil war in Syria and the instability in the region, not to mention its own problems with growing sectarian violence.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, has recommended that U.S. commanders find ways to improve Iraq’s military capabilities. This would involve additional weapons and training and, although neither government would say so publicly, some level of U.S. involvement in operations.

The language accompanying the proposal suggests that it is a done deal. We could hardly let the Iraqis say they were open to military cooperation with the U.S., an embarrassing admission in itself, and then humiliate them by slapping down the offer.

The lesson in this for Baghdad is that the next time the U.S. offers a stay-behind military presence, say yes.

Dale McFeatters is an editorial writer for USA Today.



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