Maliki said that the decision had been taken despite Iraq’s desire for stronger military ties with Washington, and alluded to political difficulties he would have in getting approval for any extended American presence.
“We are not going to ask for an extension for US forces, in spite of our keenness to continue cooperation with the United States in all areas, including military,” he told a South Korean news organization, according to a transcript of an April 20 interview released by his office.
In a nod to domestic political opposition to any US presence beyond the end of 2011, he noted: “As you know, the process... does not only require the approval of the government, but also a vote in parliament.”
Radical anti-US Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr warned on April 9 that his supporters would resume armed opposition if American troops were to stay beyond the end of this year.
The transcript of the interview was released a day after the top US military Officer warned that Iraq had just “weeks” to decide if it needed American troops to stay, and cautioned that time was running out.
“Talks needs to start soon, very soon, should there be any chance of avoiding irrevocable logistics and operational decisions we must make in the coming weeks,” Admiral Michael Mullen said at a news conference at the US military’s Victory Base Camp on Baghdad’s outskirts.
The Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff added: “Time is running short for negotiations to occur.” Mullen’s remarks reiterated those of US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who visited Iraq 2 weeks ago.
Fewer than 50,000 US troops are currently stationed in Iraq, down from a peak of nearly 170,000 following the US-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein in 2003. All of those troops must withdraw from the country by the end of the year, under the terms of a bilateral security pact.
Source: Agence France Presse – AFP