On paper, the future of the US military in Iraq is clear-cut. US and Iraqi officials say there are no plans and no negotiations to extend the troop presence here past the agreed Dec. 31 deadline – a major political priority in both Washington and Baghdad. But faced with that rapidly approaching date in a newly volatile Middle East, the US, at least, seems to be having second thoughts.
"How many of you know when you're going to be going home?" Gen. Martin Dempsey, the US Army's top general, asked a group of soldiers during a recent visit to Baghdad. Only a handful raised their hands.
Dempsey, who arrived in Baghdad as commander of the 1st Armored Division in 2003, was told then that US forces would be in Iraq for only six months.
"When we were deployed we weren't sure how long we'd be here. We weren't really sure what we'd be asked to do," he told the soldiers. "I'd suggest that's where you are right now. You're giving the nation options."
US, Maliki potentially open to extension