Iraq, U.S. to discuss longer stay
BAGHDAD – The Iraqi government agreed late Tuesday to start negotiations with U.S. officials on whether to authorize the U.S. military to remain in Iraq on a mission training Iraq’s security forces after 2011.
The announcement came the same day that Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited the country and warned that Washington needed a clear signal from Iraq about whether it would ask the American military to stay on.
Senior Pentagon officials have been imploring Iraq’s government for months to make a decision on a continued U.S. military presence.
As a candidate, President Barack Obama promised to end the Iraq war, so the White House has been reluctant to call openly for U.S. troops to remain.
But the top Pentagon officials generally favor keeping a small U.S. force here, fearing that a complete withdrawal will cause sectarian and ethnic fighting to intensify.
Pentagon officials privately acknowledge that having troops in Iraq could also serve to deter neighboring Iran from asserting itself in the region.
Under Pentagon pressure, the White House this summer agreed privately to permit a maximum force of about 10,000 troops to assist with intelligence gathering and to mentor Iraqi troops.
The U.S. troop presence is one of the most contentious issues for Iraqis. At Tuesday’s five-hour closed-door meeting in Baghdad, senior Iraqi leaders gave the go-ahead for talks with the U.S.