I think we’re reaching a semantic game with respect to the US military presence in Iraq. The political community just won’t ask for an extension of military troops. But the leadership appears to be falling back to allowing trainers to work with Iraqi security forces. That’s what Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari seemed to be saying today.

Zebari and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki appear to be preparing the public for some type of American military presence in Iraq past 2011, but have been trying to paint it as a training force as opposed to combat units.

“Is there a security need for Iraq for trainers, for experts? The answer is yes,” Zebari told reporters in Baghdad. “I believe that things are heading to an agreement on having trainers and experts not military forces with combat troops.”

Zebari provided no details, saying no agreement has been reached and Iraq has not asked for any American forces to stay. In a follow-up interview with The Associated Press, he said the trainers would be active-duty military personnel, as opposed to private contractors, but would not specify how many.

Now that actually differs from what Maliki floated last week. Because Maliki said that the trainers would be private military contractors, not US military forces. If Iraq wanted private military trainers, they could hire them on the open market like anyone else. But if they want US military personnel doing the training, that would require a formal request.

And this puts the Iraqi leadership back in a box. If they can convince their peers that trainers who are US military personnel does not equal troops, maybe they can survive intact. But I suspect that the Sadrists, and other groups, will see them the same way, and revolt against their presence by collapsing the government.

The fact that 50 Sadrist political prisoners were pardoned yesterday looms large here. That feels like a payoff to the Sadrist bloc for allowing US trainers to stay.