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U.S. Still Open To Iraqi Request For Military Presence After 2011

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari
BAGHDAD -- A U.S. official says Washington is confident Iraqi security forces can cope with the challenges facing their country after U.S. forces withdraw but that it remains open to requests for a U.S. presence beyond 2011, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reports.

Chris Hensman, a State Department spokesman in Baghdad, told RFI on July 28 that "the United States is focused on upholding [its] security agreement, and that says that we will remove our combat forces by the end of the year. We are on track to uphold that agreement."

But he said that "we are open to discussion with the Iraqi government [about] a future U.S. presence." Nonetheless, he added that such discussions "have not yet taken place."

Hensman said the Iraqi government is still "debating" the issue and has not formally asked Washington to keep some combat forces in Iraq beyond the withdrawal date at the end of 2011.

He added that there is "no specific timeline for such a request [from the Iraqi government] to come in."

Hensman said "the United States is confident that Iraqi security forces' capacity will continue to grow. There are challenges but I think the Iraqi people can be proud of their security forces."

Political analyst Hassan Shabaan told RFI that "there is consensus among the Iraqi politicians on some U.S. forces remaining whether for training or for intelligence purposes regardless of the statements reported by the media."

Shabaan noted that "even after the U.S. withdrawal the United States remains, under the security agreement, committed to Iraq's territorial integrity, unity, and borders but not as much as when there is a significant U.S. military presence [in the country]."

Shabaan predicted that "a formula can be worked out between the two countries along the lines suggested by Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari."

Zebari told reporters on July 27 that "it is possible to reach an acceptable outcome, not a new agreement or an extension [of the existing agreement with the United States] but an arrangement to support and build up our [military] capabilities in terms of training and expertise. The tendency is to agree on trainers and experts rather than combat units."

Hensman said that apart from the security portion of the relationship between Iraq and the United States, the strategic framework agreement between the two "governs our relationship moving forward covers everything from economic development and we see this from [our] cooperation with the Finance Ministry, with the Iraqi banks trying to increase investment."

Hensman said a U.S. business council was recently established in Iraq that will promote trade and the education sphere. He said that every year thousands of Iraqis travel, study, and train in the United States.