|Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki (L) has refused to grant any US troops immunity after 2011 [Reuters]|
The US is abandoning plans to keep troops in Iraq past a year-end withdrawal deadline, The Associated Press reported.
The decision to pull out fully by January will effectively end more than eight years of US involvement in the Iraq war, despite ongoing concerns about its security forces and the potential for instability.
A senior administration official in Washington confirmed on Saturday that all American troops will leave except for about 160 troops attached to the US Embassy in Baghdad.
Under a 2008 security agreement, all US forces- over 40,000 on Iraqi soil now- are required to leave by the end of 2011.
But the Pentagon, for months, had been debating whether to leave up to 5,000 troops to train security forces and hinder Iranian influence.
The senior US military official said the withdrawal could allow future, limited US military training missions if requested.
Throughout the months of negotiations, Iraqi political leaders have rejected giving legal immunity to US troops, a deal-breaker to Washington.
Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, won enough backing to keep some US soldiers in Iraq as military trainers, but has told granting them immunity if they commit crimes.
Only supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr, an anti-US Shia leader, rejected the accord between the major political parties on accepting US trainers. His Mehdi Army militia once battled US troops, but he is now a key ally of al-Maliki in parliament.
Immunity from prosecution has been a key issue for the Pentagon, which has resisted the risk of American soldiers ending up prosecuted in an Iraqi court.
Iraqis are still angry over incidents such as the Abu Ghraib prison scandal or Haditha, when US troops killed Iraqi civilians in Anbar province, and want American troops subject to Iraqi law.
Going down to zero by the end of this year would allow both al-Maliki and President Barack Obama to claim victory.
Obama will have fulfilled a key campaign promise to end the war and al-Maliki will have ended the American presence in Iraq and restored Iraqi sovereignty.