Iraqi PM says decision on US troops may come soon

Officials from both nations believe Iraq is still too unstable to protect itself without US help.

Baghdad: Iraq`s leaders may soon reach agreement on whether to ask US troops to stay in Iraq beyond a year-end departure deadline, but the final decision is up to Parliament, the Iraqi Prime Minister said.

Nouri al-Maliki`s comments came ahead of a meeting on Thursday between US Vice President Joe Biden and his Iraq advisers in Washington.

In a statement on his website, Al-Maliki said Biden called him on Wednesday to discuss the latest developments in Iraq and whether US forces would leave by end of December as required under a 2008 security accord between the two countries.

The Prime Minister "stressed that the Iraqi Parliament is the body that decides eventually whether the country needs the US forces to stay or not”, the statement said. Al-Maliki also told Biden that "the leaders of the political blocs might be able to reach a decision on this during their next meeting”.

The political leaders are tentatively to meet again on Saturday, after cancelling a discussion earlier this week.

Many officials from both nations believe Iraq is still too unstable to protect itself without US help. The US has offered to keep up to 10,000 US troops in Iraq to help train the country`s security forces, and many Iraqi officials privately have indicated they would like a more robust American military presence.

However, such a large presence may be difficult to sell to an Iraqi public already tired of eight years of war.

Moreover, if the troops stay, al-Maliki risks a potentially violent backlash from the followers of the anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who has galvanised grass roots support across Iraq by promising to drive out the US military.

With the US troop presence a hotly contested issue, al-Maliki wants Parliament to be responsible for the final decision.

Biden`s schedule says he will chair a private meeting in Washington on Thursday with senior officials to assess progress in Iraq.

US troops already are starting to pack up and leave Iraq, even though violence cross the country is continuing.

A car bomb in front of a liquor store in northern Baghdad`s Waziriya neighbourhood killed two passers-by and wounded 10, according to police and health officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to release information. The blast late Wednesday shook windows several miles (kilometres) away.

Bureau Report

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