Washington: Iraq`s Prime Minister left the door open to the continued presence of US forces in Iraq beyond the date both countries have set as a firm deadline for the last American soldiers to leave.
Although Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said an agreement reached last year would end US military involvement in Iraq in 2011, he suggested that agreement could be reconsidered.
"Nevertheless, if the Iraqi forces required further training and further support, we shall examine this then at that time, based on the needs of Iraq," al-Maliki told a Washington audience.
"I am sure that the prospects and the ... desire of such cooperation is found among both parties," al-Maliki said, according to an interpreter`s translation of his remarks in Arabic.
Iraqi and US leaders have repeatedly said the deadline of December 31, 2011, will not change. President Barack Obama repeated the commitment to leave by that date when al-Maliki visited the White House on Wednesday.
The deadline agreement, reached after months of wrangling, mandated the US handover last month of security control of Iraq`s cities and said all US forces will quit the country by 2012.
Obama has also set a deadline of August 2010 to remove US combat forces, meaning that in theory those remaining into 2011 would be trainers, advisers, support personnel and so forth.