Iraq’s interior ministry plans to sign a deal with the US government to supply scores of US civilian security personnel to train its troops, a senior Iraqi security official said.
The agreement, which requires Iraqi cabinet approval, would mean the interior ministry at least will have little need for US troops to stay on beyond their planned year-end withdrawal, senior ministry official Adnan Al Asadi told Reuters.
Iraq wants the United States to supply several thousand trainers for its military, sources have said, but is still debating whether to ask Washington to leave some troops behind for training, especially to fill gaps in their capabilities.
Mr. Asadi said the deal with Washington would supply Iraq with 200 security advisers and experts from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation. They will be deployed at the training centers in Baghdad, Basra, Arbil, Mosul and maybe Hilla.
US troops are scheduled to leave when a security accord with Iraq ends this year, but the training agreement will be covered by a broader security cooperation framework between the governments.
“This memorandum has nothing to do with the drawdown of US troops. It is a part of the framework agreement and the work will continue as long as needed,” Mr. Asadi told Reuters.
“We will sign it with the US Justice Department because the FBI is one of their agencies,” Mr. Asadi said.
Iraqi forces are taking over full responsibility for security as remaining US troops prepare to withdraw from the country at the end of 2011, more than eight years after the invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.
Violence has declined sharply since the height of Iraq’s sectarian conflict in 2006-2007, but Shiite and Sunni Muslim groups carry out killings, bombings and attacks almost daily.
Iraqi security and political sources say the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki is leaning toward working with civilian contractors rather than asking for US troops to stay on. That would avoid the politically sensitive issue of leaving American troops on Iraqi soil.
US officials say Iraq must decide soon if it wants some US troops to stay, but they say legal safeguards for any remaining US troops could be a major stumbling block.
Some Iraqi and US officials have expressed concern over the readiness of Iraqi military forces. But any decision by the premier to extend the presence of US troops would be risky.
Anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr, whose bloc is a key ally in Mr. Maliki’s government, has threatened to continue military resistance and mount protests if US troops stay.
Mr. Asadi said the planned accord would not include providing weapons to interior ministry forces and would be restricted to training.
“So far, the Iraqi government cabinet has not approved the sites which were supposed to be approved so the US side can start processing them as training centers,” Mr. Asadi said.
To avoid angering allies, Mr. Maliki, who is also acting defense and interior minister, may opt to bypass parliament and have his ministries sign agreements with Washington for 2,000-3,000 US trainers, sources have said.
Mr. Asadi said the US embassy had already signed a contract with Triple Canopy security company to secure facilities and the training mission personnel.
“We are working to reduce the number of guards as much as we can. Right now there are discussions and negotiations but nothing has been approved,” Mr. Asadi said.
The question of jurisdiction over the US experts and consultants and their security companies in Iraq beyond 2011 is still a delicate issue for US officials. But Mr. Asadi said Iraq would have jurisdiction over the training mission staff and their guards if they committed crime.
“Absolutely, Iraq will have jurisdiction over the experts and the security companies,” he said. “They have no diplomatic immunity.”