by Gavriel Queenann
President Barack Obama has offered to leave 10,000 troops in Iraq next year despite his pledge that all US forces would be withdrawn by the end of 2011.
Any extension of US military presence in Iraq depends on receiving a formal request from Baghdad, which must weigh the questionable readiness of Iraqi security forces against fears of increased terror attacks and unrest if US soldiers remain in 2012.
Baghdad is not expected to decide until September at the earliest when the 46,000 US troopes who remain in the country will start heading home, but senior White House officials say they have worked out options to keep 8,500-10,000 active duty troops in-country to continue traiing Iraqi security forces in 2012.
The figures also were noted by foreign diplomats in Baghdad briefed on the issue. All spoke on condition of anonymity to frankly discuss the sensitive matter during interviews over the past two weeks.
Political Confrontations Expected
Any change in the US military withdrawal timetable in Iraq - after more than eight years and more than 4,450 US military deaths - may spark difficult political confrontations for Obama as pressure builds to close out the Iraq mission and stick to pledges to draw down troops in Afghanistan as well.
Senator Harry Reid, the top senate democrat and majority leader, told reporters the cost of keeping US troops in Iraq, given a mounting US debt crisis and Iraq's fledgling security gains, is no longer necessary.
"As Iraq becomes increasingly capable, it is time for our own troops to return home by the end of the year and for these precious resources to be directed elsewhere," Reid said in the statement.
"There is no question that the United States must continue to provide support for the Iraqis as they progress, but now is the time for our military mission to come to a close."
Reid estimated nearly $1 trillion has been spent in Iraq since the US invaded in 2003, including $50 billion this year alone.
Reid's is the first statement by a top democrat to oppose Obama's policy in Iraq, and may signal splintering Democratic support over his war planning just as he ramps up his 2012 re-election campaign.
Iraq has flown under Washington's political radar for much of the past year, and democratic politicians and fund raisers who want Obama to end the war on-schedule are vowing to exert more pressure on the White House.
"With a false declaration that combat operations are over in Iraq, what is now Operation New Dawn has ironically become a forgotten war," said Ashwin Madia, a former Marine who served in Iraq in 2005-06 and is now interim chairman of VoteVets.org. "That is about to change."
The group has raised millions of dollars for Democratic Party candidates.
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