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Iraq PM admits US troops may stay
Nuri al-Maliki says US forces may remain in the country past 2011 withdrawal deadline.
Last Modified: 24 Jul 2009 02:57 GMT
The US troop pullout was called a day of 'Iraqi sovereignty' by the country's prime minister [AFP]

The Iraqi prime minister has admitted US troops could stay in the country beyond 2011.

Under the US-Iraq Status of Forces agreement, which sets out a timetable for the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq, American troops must exit the country by December 31, 2011.

But Nuri al-Maliki said at the US Institute of Peace in Washington on Thursday: "The security relations between the Americans and the Iraqis ... is a relationship based on co-operation and all the foundations and rules that were put forth in the agreements.

"Nevertheless, if the Iraqis require further training and support we shall examine this at that time, based on the needs of Iraq."

His comments mark a shift in his position and come less than a month after US troops pulled out of Iraq's towns and cities, handing sole control of security in the areas to domestic security forces.

Change in stance

Rob Reynolds, Al Jazeera's Washington correspondent, said: "We have heard talks from al-Maliki and other figures in the Iraqi government about how they are moving ahead with national reconciliation for years now - without much visible progress.

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"The Iraqi government and Maliki insist that the Iraqi security forces are sufficiently trained and equipped to handle security in the country but, at the same time, both Maliki and Obama say that if they get in trouble the Iraqis can call on the Americans for help."

Al-Maliki declared a national holiday in Iraq on June 30th when US forces left Iraq's urban centres and returned to their barracks, saying that the pullout was a key step in re-establishing Iraqi sovereignty.

Sam Parker of the US Institute for Peace told Al Jazeera that the Iraqi leader is now trying to make amends with the US government and military, members of which had criticised Maliki's reaction to the US pullback.

"The disconnect between what he says in Iraq and what he says here is all about politics and playing to a domestic constituency versus playing to the foreign power that provides his government with the support that's essential for its functioning," he said.

Deadline set

Al-Maliki's apparent willingness for US forces to stay in Iraq beyond the 2011 deadline comes a day after he met Barack Obama, the US president, at the White House.

Speaking afterwards, Obama said: "Going forward, we will continue to provide training and support for Iraqi security forces that are capable and non-sectarian.

"We will move forward with our strategy to responsibly remove American combat brigades from Iraq by the end of next August and fulfil our commitment to remove all American troops from Iraq by the end of 2011."

Analysts say that Obama needs the troop redeployment to go to schedule so that he can send soldiers to Afghanistan, where US and Nato forces are fighting the Taliban.

Source:
Al Jazeera
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