Currently, the most urgent issue in relations between the United States and Iraq is how many American troops will remain in that country after the end of this year and what roles they will perform. In an effort to galvanize progress on this issue, Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited Iraq on April 22 bearing a warning: Decision time is now.
Since it entered into force at the beginning of 2009, the U.S.-Iraq Security Agreement, also known as the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), has governed the U.S. military presence in Iraq. In addition to granting American troops their legal rights and prerogatives when under Iraqi jurisdiction, the terms of the agreement also stipulate that almost all remaining U.S. military personnel must withdraw from Iraq by the end of 2011.
Both the U.S and Iraqi governments are currently adhering to this timetable. Mullen confirmed that Army Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, commander of U.S. Forces Iraq, is following a plan to complete the withdrawal on time. Nevertheless, U.S. military leaders have made increasingly clear that they would like to keep a residual force in Iraq beyond that date to continue important training and security missions.