Reports are breaking early Tuesday afternoon that the Obama administration has decided to scale down the number of U.S. troops in Iraq to just 3,000 by the end of the year. Fox News reports:
"Senior commanders are said to be livid at the decision, which has already been signed off by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
The generals on the ground had requested that the number of troops remaining in Iraq at the end of the year reach about 27,000. But, there was major pushback about 'the cost and the political optics' of that decision that the number was then reduced to 10,000."
Responding live to the announcement while being interviewed on Fox, Independent Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman said that in all the conversations he has had on force strength, he has "never heard a number as low as 3,000 troops to secure the gains Iraqis have won over the years."
The news comes as reports surface that the powerful leader of Iraq's Kurdish autonomous region made his first public appeal for American forces to stay in Iraq, saying on Tuesday that if they leave sectarian violence may erupt.
Massoud Barzani rules the three northern provinces that make up the Kurds' self-ruled region. While Kurds generally want American forces to stay in Iraq, Barzani's speech Tuesday marked the fist time he's taken a public stance in favor of keeping an American troop presence in Iraq into next year.
During a televised speech, Barzani said that, if American troops leave, the sectarian violence that plagued Iraq after the U.S.-led invasion might erupt anew. He called on the Iraqi government in Baghdad to sign an agreement with the Americans to keep forces in the country.
"In my opinion if the American forces withdraw there will be a possibility of civil war," he said.
Under a 2008 security agreement between Washington and Baghdad, all U.S. troops are slated to leave by Dec. 31, 2011. But continued instability and fear of growing Iranian influence in Iraq has prompted some Iraqi and U.S. officials to reconsider the deadline.
The U.S. has stressed repeatedly that Iraq must formally request the American military to stay longer and describe specifically what type of role they would like the American military to play if the deadline is to be extended.
The Associated Press contributed to this article