Baghdad: Iraq`s political leaders have given
the government the green light to begin negotiating a deal
with the US to keep American troops in the country past the
end of the year to train Iraqi security forces.
But Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said yesterday that
a final agreement is still far from settled, and cautioned
that Baghdad could still insist the US military leave by the
end of 2011 as required under a 2008 security agreement.
"The government still might not do it (allow US troops
to stay)," Zebari told a news agency after the
"This is a politically highly charged issue, and there
was division," he said. "But this meeting unified all the
political leaders to back the government and start the
Tuesday`s small step forward was the result of five
hours of often-heated debate among several dozen Iraqi
political leaders and Cabinet ministers. Zebari said no
details were settled like how many US troops would stay, or
for how long, or whether they would be given legal immunity
Those issues will be key factors as Washington weighs
whether it will continue its military presence in Iraq after
more than eight years of war.
In a statement, the US Embassy in Baghdad said it would
review the Iraqi leaders` decision.
"We are committed to a broad and long-term partnership
with the Iraqi people, and will review our security
relationship within that context," the statement said.
Iraq`s leaders are torn between the nation`s shaky
security and its war-weary public in deciding whether US
forces should leave by December 31.
The issue has also put Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in
an uncomfortable position with one of his top allies,
anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who is bent on driving
American forces from the country.
Washington has offered to have up to 10,000 US troops
stay and continue training Iraqi forces on tanks, fighter jets
and other military equipment.