US special forces will face complex challenges, precarious political situation in Iraq

The Associated Press

In this June 23, 2014, photo, mourners chant slogans against the al-Qaida breakaway group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant after they bury 15 bodies in the village of Taza Khormato near the northern oil-rich city of Kirkuk, Iraq. U.S. teams of special forces going into Iraq after a three-year gap will face an aggressive insurgency, a splintering military and a precarious political situation as they help Iraqi security forces improve their ability to battle Sunni militants. (AP Photo/Emad Matti)

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Still, Dubik said that while the commandos will provide important short-term help for the Iraq forces, they will not be sufficient to solve the problem. Instead, he said Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki needs to make several critical political moves, including disbanding the office of the commander in chief, which has been blamed for roiling sectarian divisions and pushing a Shiite agenda.

U.S. officials are also pressing for a government transition that will better empower the minorities and bring the country together, thus conceivably avoiding a civil war.

The legal agreement signed Monday was needed to get the special forces into Iraq.

The Pentagon spokesman, Rear Adm. John Kirby, said Iraq had outlined acceptable legal assurances for the short-term mission in a diplomatic note ensuring that troops will not be subject to Iraq's judicial process. Instead, if there are any problems, troops would be subject to the U.S. Uniform Code of Military Justice.

The legal protections are similar to those provided to U.S. diplomats and troops working out of the embassy, officials said,

White House spokesman Josh Earnest drew a distinction between the current situation and the administration's desire to have the Iraqi parliament approve immunity for American troops when the U.S. was looking to leave a residual force behind in 2011. Iraq refused to sign that agreement and the U.S. pulled all but a small number of forces out of the country in December 2011. Fewer than 200 troops, largely providing security, have remained at the U.S. Embassy as part of the Office of Security Cooperation.

"We're dealing with an emergency situation — that's the first part — and there is an urgent need for these advisers to be able to do their work on the ground in Iraq," Earnest said, adding that they are going in at the request of the Iraq government.

Officials also noted that the force being sent in now is much smaller than the several thousand that the military planned to leave there after 2011.

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AP White House Correspondent Julie Pace contributed to this report.

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