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Exiting Iraq, but expecting to return

US Soldiers in the Diyala Province share their views as they finish a year in Iraq.

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On the roof of their small outpost less than 30 miles north of Baghdad, Spc. Matt Graham and Spc. Zack Lindsley share Fritos and cheese dip during their guard shift.

They watch the sunset and reflect on their year-long tour in Iraq. Their views offer a small window on the attitudes of US soldiers as generals and politicians in the US debate how much longer American troops will be in Iraq.

These two men have seen one Army buddy die and at least six others sent home with serious injuries. Both are close to going home too, and they are ready.

At their tiny outpost, Army Specialists Graham and Lindsley have limited access to the news, so they've only heard the occasional headline about Iraq. But like most "boots on the ground" here, they say they don't need news reports to understand US forces aren't leaving Iraq soon.

Graham and Lindsley's unit, the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, arrived in Iraq's Diyala Province nearly a year ago. Part of the province was handed over to an Iraqi Army brigade. US commanders planned to continue the US troop reduction by leaving one battalion – a third of the brigade – to control the entire province. But the entire American brigade today remains stationed here and is being replaced by a US unit of comparable size.

Recently, a rumor circulated through the brigade that the entire unit would re-deploy to Iraq within 11 months of their homecoming. The Army would initiate a "stop loss," extending soldiers' contracts in what many have called a "backdoor draft." The stop loss requires soldiers slated to leave the Army to stay in for up to a year after their contract ends, ensuring a return to Iraq. The rumor crushed soldiers – many say they are already suffering family problems after multiple deployments.

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