Iraqi PM Hints He is Open to Longer US Stay

BAGHDAD (RPRN) 7/24/2009–Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has hinted that he is open to the presence of U.S. troops beyond December 31, 2011, a firm deadline set by both countries for the withdrawal of all American soldiers from Iraq. Speaking in Washington Thursday, Mr. Maliki suggested that the withdrawal deadline may be reconsidered if “Iraqi forces required further training and further support.”

The Iraqi leader spoke to an audience in Arabic and according to an interpreter’s translation said Iraq will consider the deadline “based on the needs of Iraq.”

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Maliki stood by President Barack Obama at the White House as Mr. Obama said despite “tough days” ahead for Iraq, the United States is on schedule to withdraw all of its troops from Iraq by the end of 2011.

Mr. Maliki is scheduled for more talks in Washington Friday, when he will meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vice President Joe Biden.

On Thursday, the Iraqi prime minister met with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who vowed to speed up U.S. military sales to Iraq to help the country improve its security forces more quickly.

U.S. combat troops withdrew from Iraqi cities on June 30 and transferred security responsibilities in those areas to Iraqi forces.

The United States still has about 130,000 troops in Iraq.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.