WASHINGTON, Feb. 8 (UPI) -- The U.S. military relationship with Iraq is outlined by a bilateral agreement that calls for U.S. forces to leave at the end of the year, a spokesman said.
Washington and Baghdad signed a bilateral status of forces agreement in 2008 that calls on all U.S. military forces to leave Iraq by the end of 2011. James Jeffrey, the U.S. envoy to Iraq, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week that Iraq would be "relatively stable" with American troops gone by 2012.
U.S. military planners said there would be private contractors in place to protect the diplomats who stay in Iraq. P.J. Crowley, a spokesman for the U.S. State Department, said that didn't mean Washington was considering extending its military stay in Iraq despite lingering security concerns.
Crowley said Washington was moving ahead with "the current strategy," adding U.S. officials were "happy" to discuss the nature of the military relationship with Iraqi authorities if they deemed it necessary.
Jeffrey during his testimony said there was a modest uptick in violence in Iraq following an October siege on a Christian church in Baghdad that killed at least 60 people and left nearly 100 severely injured.
He said the October attack showed al-Qaida was still able to carry out high-profile attacks but "the level of sophistication of their attacks has declined."
As much has half of the Christian population in Iraq has fled the country since insurgent attacks against the minority group increased in 2008.