Iraq Is Expected to Ask U.S. Troops to Remain
By Dialogo June 13, 2011
The man nominated by President Barack Obama to lead the Pentagon said that he expects that Iraq will ask to extend the presence of U.S. troops in the country beyond the deadline of the end of 2011.
If that occurs, the United States should say yes, outgoing CIA chief Leon Panetta told a Senate committee considering his nomination for the post of secretary of defense.
“It is clear to me that Iraq is considering the possibility of making a request for some kind of (troop) presence to remain there,” he said.
Panetta said that he believes that the request will come “at some point.”
The Shiite-dominated governing coalition led by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is debating whether to ask Washington to leave some of its 47,000 soldiers in Iraq, perhaps as instructors and advisers.
At least one group in Maliki’s coalition, however, the Sadr bloc led by anti-U.S. cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, is energetically opposed to a continuing presence by Washington’s troops beyond 2011, the date set for the soldiers’ withdrawal under a bilateral security agreement.
U.S. and Iraqi military commanders fear that the Iraqi armed forces are not fully prepared to defend the country. Washington has noted deficiencies in Iraqi air defenses, intelligence fusion, and logistics, among other areas.
Violence has decreased considerably since the most intense period of the war in Iraq, but security remains precarious.
Five U.S. soldiers died Monday in a rocket attack, the worst incident for U.S. forces in at least two years.
Panetta said that he believes that there are still one thousand Al Qaeda militants in Iraq.
“It, too, continues to be a fragile situation, and I believe that we should take whatever steps are necessary to make sure that we protect whatever progress we have made there,” he said.
Outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates has publicly suggested that Iran is another reason to maintain U.S. forces in Iraq.
Washington has accused Iran of supporting Shiite militias, an accusation that Teheran denies, and Iraqi Sunnis view Iran’s intentions with enormous mistrust.
Gates said last month that a continued U.S. military presence in Iraq would be “reassuring” to the states of the Persian Gulf. He also said that it would not be reassuring to neighboring Iran, and “that’s a good thing.”