by Tom Hayden

In a stunning victory for the American peace movement and Iraqi opponents of the American occupation, the Associated Press is reporting that virtually all US troops will withdraw as scheduled by this Dec. 31. http://m.apnews.com/ap/db_16026/contentdetail.htm?contentguid=pO5hbdvx

The withdrawal will allow President Obama to keep his pledge to withdraw all American troops by year’s end.

It is a rare rejection of Pentagon plans to keep tens of thousands of “residual” counterterrorism forces, trainers and support personnel behind. Only last month, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta floated the idea of retaining 3-4,000 American troops behind, far below the Pentagon’s comfort level. Apparently even that low figure was proven unacceptable to the Iraqis.

The sticking point during months of negotiations was the US demand for immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts for American troops. The Iraqi parliament refused to approve an agreement including such immunity.

The withdrawal may be met with a degree of skepticism by some who distrust White House promises, even a pledges going back to February 2009. But President Obama’s position all year has been to keep his promise to withdraw combat troops on schedule, but that he might be “open” to an agreement leaving a few thousand Americans behind only if requested by the Iraqi government. Given the impasse over immunity, however, he is free to implement his promise to pull out the remaining 48,000 US troops.

Doing so would save almost $50 billion in tax dollars per year, or $100 billion through the November 2012 election cycle.

A White House official told AP that 160 active-duty US soldiers will be attached to the US Embassy for protection and to facilitate weapons sales to Iraq, a typical embassy function. But in Iraq the embassy is projected to be the largest in the world. Bilateral discussions will continue over a possible training role in the future.

In the geo-political terms of the region, the US withdrawal was favored by Iran and opposed by Saudi Arabia. Iraq’s Shiite majority and government is linked on multiple levels with Iran, while Saudi Arabia maintains support for the twenty percent Sunni population who dominated Iraq under Saddam Hussein. According to the AP, Prime Minister Maliki told the diplomatic corps that he lacks the votes to support immunity in the Iraqi parliament, where the Shiite forces of Moktada al-Sadr are a prominent faction. Underlying the impasse between Iraqi factions was the broad opposition of the Iraqi people, still angered at the years of occupation and torture of detainees under American watch in Iraqi prisons.