BAGHDAD – Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Saturday that an agreement requiring U.S. troops to leave by the end of 2011 will stand because Iraqi forces are capable of taking care of the country’s security.
The comments are his first on the subject since being tasked with forming a new government after nearly nine months of political deadlock, and some of his strongest to date on what is expected to be a key issue facing the next government.
“The security agreement with what it included of dates and commitments will remain valid, and I do not feel the need for the presence of any other international forces to help Iraqis control the security situation,” al-Maliki told reporters during his first news conference since getting the formal request on Thursday to form the new government.
American officials have said they will abide by the agreement although they would consider any request by the new Iraqi government to stay longer.
Earlier this month, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the U.S. government is open to discussing changes to the agreement.
Allowing American troops to stay longer could help reinforce Iraq’s developing security forces. But it would be a dangerous gamble for the Iraqi and U.S. governments. President Barack Obama was elected in part due to his promise to end the Iraq war. Any Iraqi political leader who asked the Americans to stay would risk looking weak to an electorate tired of American troops on their soil.
Al-Maliki was asked Thursday to form the next government after the months-long stalemate that followed the inconclusive March 7 election. Al-Maliki’s State of Law coalition got 89 seats to 91 for the Sunni-backed Iraqiya bloc led by secular Shiite Ayad Allawi.
Neither got the 163-seat majority, and after months of negotiating, Allawi was never able to get enough partners to govern.
Al-Maliki has 30 days to form his Cabinet, which must then be approved by the parliament. Al-Maliki said Saturday that he expects to announce the government between Dec. 10 and Dec. 15.