Last updated: 25 December, 2011

US eyes hands-off policy in Iraq

The United States is mulling a far more subdued role in Iraq after pulling its troops out, and has no intention to send its forces back in despite a spike in violence, The New York Times reported on Sunday.

US officials told the Times that President Barack Obama was adamant that the United States would not send troops back to Iraq, adding that even an American military presence likely would not have prevented the political crisis and coordinated attacks plaguing the country days after a US pullout.

“There is a strong sense that we need to let events in Iraq play out,” a senior administration official said. “There is not a great deal of appetite for re-engagement. We are not going to reinvade Iraq.”

But US military counterterrorism personnel could return to Iraq under CIA authority, if approved by the president.

“As the US military has drawn down to zero in terms of combat troops, the US intelligence community has not done the same,” a senior administration official told the Times.

Another official said the administration has told Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki that US economic, security and diplomatic ties with Iraq will be “colored” by how well the Shiite premier can maintain a coalition with Sunni and Kurdish leaders.

Vice President Joe Biden, Obama’s pointman on Iraq, has been in close contact with leaders of the country’s rival sects, including Maliki, President Jalal Talabani — a Kurd — the Sunni speaker of parliament Osama al-Nujaifi and Kurdish leader Massud Barzani, urging them to mend their fences.

The Times said several other Obama administration officials have spoken on the phone with Maliki and other Iraqi officials all week in a bid to resolve the stalemate after the Shiite president accused his Sunni vice president, Tareq al-Hashemi, of hiring bodyguards to run a death squad.

CIA Director David Petraeus, the former top US commander in Iraq, also visited Baghdad for talks with Iraqi leaders.

The last US soldier of a garrison that once numbered 170,000 left Iraq and entered Kuwait a week ago. Fewer than 200 US soldiers will now remain at the US embassy, along with a group of Marines for security.

The withdrawal took place after US and Iraqi leaders failed to strike a deal to keep American troops in Iraq beyond December 31.

But the outcome ultimately corresponded to Obama’s campaign pledge to end US involvement in a war that left tens of thousands of Iraqis and nearly 4,500 American soldiers dead, many more wounded, and 1.75 million Iraqis displaced.