Eight years later, thousands of US troops remain in Iraq - and their mission may not be accomplished until far into the future. Despite a security agreement requiring a full US military withdrawal by the year’s end, hundreds if not thousands of American soldiers will continue to be in Iraq beyond 2012. Just how many will stay is the heart of a tense and hushed debate among US and Iraqi officials who want the fragile democracy to stand alone for the first time since the US-led war began on March 20, 2003 - but fear it could fall apart without military support. “Nobody wants foreign forces in his country, but sometimes the situation on the ground has the final say on such matters,” said Sunni lawmaker Yassin al-Mutlaq in an interview this week. “Right now, nobody can decide.” There are about 47,000 American troops in Iraq now, down from an October 2007 peak of 166,000. As of this week, 4,439 US forces have been killed and the war has cost taxpayers more than $750 billion.