Washington: The United States believes that there are some 1,000 al Qaeda still in Iraq, CIA chief Leon Panetta, nominated to take over the Pentagon in July, told the Senate on Thursday.
Panetta made the comments when asked whether it was in the US interest to keep its troops in Iraq past an end-year deadline for their withdrawal, if Baghdad asked.
"I have to tell you there are 1,000 al Qaeda that are still in Iraq," he said. "It too continues to be a fragile situation. And I believe that we should take whatever steps are necessary to make sure that we protect whatever progress we`ve made there."
Panetta expected Iraq to ask Washington "at some point" to keep some US troops in the country beyond an end-2011 deadline for their withdrawal.
"It`s clear to me that Iraq is considering the possibility of making a request for some kind of (troop) presence to remain there".
"I have every confidence that a request like that ... is something I think will be forthcoming at some point."