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Iraqi Official Says Talks On U.S.-Forces Extension Stalled

U.S. military personnel at a ceremony marking the withdrawal of 1,000 U.S. soldiers from a military base at Al-Basrah airport on September 7.
BAGHDAD -- An Iraqi official says talks between the Iraqi government and U.S. officials on whether some U.S. forces might remain in Iraq beyond December have stalled, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reports.

As U.S. forces continue their withdrawal, some Iraqi officials have warned of security problems and a possible civil war in Iraq if the pullout is completed, as scheduled, by the end of the year.

Colonel Barry Johnson, a spokesman for U.S. forces in Iraq, told RFI there are still some 40 U.S. military bases and about 44,500 U.S. troops in Iraq.

Johnson said the withdrawal of about 10,000 troops per month is continuing, and the plan to have no bases or U.S. troops in Iraq as of January 1 is on schedule.

Saad al-Muttalibi, of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's State of Law bloc, told RFI the talks between Baghdad and Washington about the extension of the U.S. presence in Iraq beyond 2011 are at a standstill.

"It's because the Americans are insisting on having full immunity for their personnel in Iraq," he said, "As for Iraqis, they can only promise diplomatic immunity for the staff of the embassy."

Some Iraqi officials want a small number of U.S. forces to remain in Iraq beyond 2011 to maintain security in some of the country's violence-prone areas.

Violence has been on the rise in recent months, and many fear that Iraqi forces are not yet capable of handling the security situation in the country.

For the first time, the Al-Iraqiyah bloc led by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi has said it is concerned by the consequences of a complete U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.

Al-Iraqiyah parliament deputy Muhammad al-Khalidi told RFI that "the American withdrawal is dangerous for Iraq. Look at what is happening now, look at the violence which is occuring."

Al-Khalidi warned of the consequences of a U.S.-force withdrawal, saying Iraq should look for a substitute if the Americans leave. He noted that Iraqi forces are neither ready nor capable of handling security in the country.

But Muttalibi said he thinks the continued presence of U.S. forces is behind many problems in Iraq, noting that the terrorist activities of Islamists and Al-Qaeda are because of the U.S. presence.

"It is in the best interests of Iraq that U.S. forces leave the country," he told RFI.

Deputy Shawan Muhammad from the parliament's Kurdish bloc told RFI he thinks U.S. forces are needed in Iraq, noting that the country still faces many dangers, both internal and external.

Internally, he mentioned the ongoing violence and the political struggles and problems between Arabs and Kurds, particularly over jurisdiction over the disputed areas of the country.

He also noted the Turkish and Iranian shelling of Iraqi territory and Kuwait's building of the Mubarak seaport.

Iraq political analyst Bassim Hamza told RFI that he is pessimistic about Iraq's future, especially with the recent rise in violence and assassinations.

He said this new wave of violence and assassinations in Iraq may not lead to a sectarian war, but he thinks it is the first step toward what he called an "advanced dictatorship" similar to that of former leader Saddam Hussein.

Political analyst Khalid al-Sarray said the political crisis will be worse after the Americans leave Iraq, but also thinks even if some U.S. forces stay, the crises may not be resolved. "Iraq is facing a very difficult dilemma," he told RFI.