Tue Aug 21, 2018 | 06:56
US eyes prolonged presence in Iraq
Thu, 07 Apr 2011 22:23:26 GMT
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Iraqi President Jalal Talabani (R) receives US Defense Secretary Robert Gates at the presidential palace in Baghdad April 7, 2011.
Months before the United States is due to complete its withdrawal from Iraq, Washington has launched a campaign to prolong its presence in the country.

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who traveled to Iraq from Saudi Arabia where he met with King Abdullah earlier on Wednesday, told the Iraqi government that the US is prepared to extend its military presence in Iraq beyond December 31, 2011.

"If folks here are going to want us to have a presence, we're going to need to get on with it pretty quickly in terms of our planning," Gates said .

He highlighted the need for a quick decision, alluding to American forces already under pressure in different areas throughout the world, including in the Afghanistan and Libya.

"I think there is interest in having a continuing presence, but the politics are such that we'll just have to wait and see because the initiative ultimately has to come from the Iraqis," Gates added.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on Thursday rejected the offer and told Gates that he expects “all” American troops to leave by the end of the year.

A 2008 security agreement between Baghdad and Washington mandates the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq before 2012.

“Our armed forces have now the ability to counter any attack, and the ability is increasing day by day," AFP quoted Maliki as telling Gates.

The US has currently stationed some 47,000 troops in the country.

Gates also met separately with Kurdish President Jalal Talabani in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone. Details of their talks were not available.

Gates was also expected to meet Massoud Barzani, president of the autonomous Kurdistan region.

Gates also claimed that Iraq has made “extraordinary” progress as an example for Middle East democracy.

“To see Iraq today, and when you look at the turbulences going across the entire region, lots of these folks would be happy if they could get to where Iraq is today,” Gates told reporters after the meeting.

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