BAGHDAD: About 700 U.S. mostly civilian trainers will help Iraqi security forces when American troops leave, Iraqi and U.S. officials say, far less than the several thousand troops and contractors once under discussion between Baghdad and Washington.
The number of U.S. troops and trainers to remain in Iraq was the subject of months of informal talks before President Barack Obama decided in October to end the U.S. military presence in Iraq. The remaining American troops, now fewer than 20,000, will leave before year-end.
"There are no talks any more about this issue and the final total number of U.S. trainers is 740," said a senior Iraqi security official close to the talks. "Most of them are civilian weapons contractors, and just a few are military officers."
Iraq needs U.S. experts to train its security forces on U.S. tanks, combat jets and other equipment as it rebuilds its military nearly nine years after the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
Violence has dropped sharply from the peak of sectarian bloodshed in 2006-07, but more than 250 civilians, police and soldiers died in violence in October.
Talks between Baghdad and Washington broke down over legal safeguards for U.S. troops if they stayed on as trainers. Many Iraqi officials said immunity for U.S. forces would have been politically unpalatable.
Iraqi security forces are considered capable of containing internal threats from a lethal Sunni insurgency and Shi'ite militias that carry out scores of attacks each month. But local forces have serious deficiencies against external threats.
A U.S. military official had said about 700 civilian trainers were expected to remain, along with 157 military personnel attached to the U.S. Embassy's Office of Security Cooperation and a contingent of about 20 to 25 Marine guards.
The trainers will work at Iraqi bases in Baghdad, Tikrit, Kirkuk, Basra, Nassiriya, Besmaya, Taji and Arbil, the Iraqi official said. Just over 100 will be attached to the Interior Ministry for police training with the rest working with the Defence Ministry.
"They have no immunity, but they will be a part of the U.S. embassy delegation in Iraq," the official said.