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Surprise! We're Not Leaving Iraq

10:59 AM, Feb 11, 2009 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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Eli Lake reports:

As President Obama weighs options for withdrawing U.S. combat troops from Iraq, the country's military is purchasing American helicopters, cargo planes and tanks equipment that typically requires a prolonged U.S. presence for maintenance and training.

Lt. Gen. Frank Helmick, who is in charge of training Iraq's security services and military, told The Washington Times that some of the ordered equipment would not be delivered until 2012, even though a new status of forces agreement (SOFA) requires all U.S. troops to exit the country by 2011....

"No matter how fast combat brigades are drawn down from Iraq, the president has always talked of the need for a residual force of some size to remain behind to, among other things, continue to train and equip the Iraqi security forces," Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said. That would require an adjustment in the SOFA, which "as it stands now ... would preclude [U.S. troops] from doing so after 2011 when all U.S. troops, combat or otherwise, have to leave the country."

Lake also reports that the Iraqi defense minister traveled to South Korea last month and told reporters there he considers the U.S.-South Korean military partnership a "model to follow" for Iraq. Of course, South Korea still hosts a significant number of U.S. troops -- 24,000 -- more than 50 years after the end of the Korean War. In fact, for all Obama's promises about withdrawing troops in 16 months, the question of what size and shape his residual force (called a strike force during the campaign) would ultimately take was never answered during the campaign. At one point Fareed Zakaria asked Obama whether there could be as many as 30,000 U.S. troops in Iraq ten years from now and Obama was unable to say no.

Will Obama fulfill the neocon dream of permanent U.S. bases in Iraq? Yes he can.