Iraqi forces eye readiness ahead of US pullout
Iraq`s military is preparing an assessment that may acknowledge gaps in the country`s security forces.
Washington: Iraq`s military is preparing an assessment that may acknowledge gaps in the country`s security forces, according to two sources familiar with the matter, a move that could bolster arguments to extend the U.S. military presence in Iraq.
The review of Iraqi military capabilities, which comes ahead of a planned U.S. withdrawal by the end of 2011, is expected to be presented to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and other top political leaders, a U.S. congressional aide told Reuters.
"The purpose of this was to sort of bleed some of the political venom out of the debate (over a continued U.S. troop presence) and make it about what it is: which is what are Iraq`s military capabilities," the aide said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The source said the analysis was "basically in its final form."
A second person familiar with the matter, who spoke from Baghdad on condition of anonymity, described it as a "readiness assessment."
It was not clear whether the results of the assessment would ever be made public or be publicly acknowledged by Iraqi officials.
The United States must withdraw its forces, currently numbering about 48,000, from Iraq by December 31 under a bilateral pact, unless that pact is altered.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Tuesday he hoped that Iraqis could find a way to ask the U.S. military to remain in the country in some fashion, but acknowledged "whether we like it or not, we`re not very popular there."
"From the standpoint of Iraq`s future but also our role in the region, I hope they figure out a way to ask," Gates said, citing the positive message a continued U.S. role in Iraq would send to the region.
"And I think that the United States will be willing to say `yes` when that time comes," added Gates, a holdover from the Bush administration who plans to step down at the end of June.
Gates has previously warned that Iraq will face problems in everything from protecting its airspace to using intelligence if the United States withdraws at the end of 2011.