Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi Prime Minister, released a statement today indicating that all US military forces will leave Iraq by the end of the year, as scheduled.

“The agreement on the withdrawal of American forces will be implemented on schedule by the end of the year, and there will not be any bases for US forces here,” Maliki told Al-Ittijah TV channel in an interview to be broadcast later, it said.

Iraqi leaders have approved negotiations with the United States on a post-2011 training mission, but no deal has yet been announced.

This really all depends on the meaning of the word “troops” to Maliki. He has been trying to change the terms, saying that troops will leave but “trainers,” who would be members of the US military, would be allowed to stay to assist Iraqi security forces. Maliki has even said in the past that he could bypass the Iraqi Parliament under such an arrangement, and permit trainers to stay. As noted above, there is a negotiating process underway between Iraq and the US on some manner of training.

It’s important to make this clear: call them trainers, call them troops, they would still be military forces, they would presumably still have guns, and they would still be used in the event of raids or firefights or other dangerous missions. They would be troops in everything but name.

So I would imagine that Maliki is engaging in some sleight of hand here. So was the President today when he spoke to the American Legion and said this:

Thanks to these Americans, we’re moving forward from a position of strength.  Having ended our combat mission in Iraq and removed more than 100,000 troops so far, we’ll remove the rest of our troops by the end of this year and we will end that war.  (Applause.)

But if you have 10,000 trainers in that country, can the war said to be ended?

More ominously, just last week the Iraqi ambassador to the US told Josh Rogin that “there will be some military presence to help train Iraqi military and police,” and that the request will be made “in our own sweet time.”

Leon Panetta just a few weeks ago told reporters that Iraq had agreed to an extended US presence, but Maliki came out and shot down that statement. He’s under pressure from the Sadrists, who vow to resist any extension.

Everyone seems to be talking past one another. It’s pretty clear that there will be some US military personnel, perhaps as much as 20,000, in Iraq assisting security efforts, just with a different name attached to them, like “non-combat trainers.” The only way this doesn’t happen is if Iraq objects to the request that the trainers not be subject to the Iraqi judicial system. They want the Blackwater deal.