US open to keeping troops in Iraq after 2011: Gates

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates on Tuesday said Washington was open to keeping troops in Iraq beyond a 2011 deadline, but it was up to Baghdad to make a request.

Last Updated: Nov 09, 2010, 21:16 PM IST

Kuala Lumpur: US Defence Secretary Robert
Gates on Tuesday said Washington was open to keeping troops in Iraq
beyond a 2011 deadline, but it was up to Baghdad to make a
request.

"In terms of the future strategic relationship beyond
the end of 2011, would say that the initiative clearly needs
to come from the Iraqis," Gates said at a press conference in
Kuala Lumpur.

"We are open to discussing it," he said.
Gates, however, said any talks on the issue would have
to wait until Iraqi leaders agree a power-sharing deal and
name key ministers, amid months of stalemate following
parliamentary elections.

"We`ll stand by and we`re ready to have that
discussion if and when they want to raise it with us," he
said.

A security accord requires all US troops to be
withdrawn from Iraq by the end of 2011, but officials in both
countries have suggested a smaller US mission will probably
stay on after next year to provide air power and other
military assistance.

About 50,000 US troops are currently in Iraq under a
new "advise and assist" mission with Iraqi forces taking the
lead.

Eight months after parliamentary elections in March,
Iraqi politicians have yet to form a government amid a
deadlock between Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish blocs.

Rival Iraqi leaders met to discuss a proposal on
Monday in the northern city of Arbil but emerged without a
deal.

Iraq`s second general election since the 2003 US-led
invasion ended in deadlock after none of the main parties won
enough of the 325 seats in parliament to form a majority
government.

Retired American officers and analysts say the United
States may need to keep thousands of military personnel in
Iraq beyond next year to contain sectarian tensions and to
bolster Baghdad`s fledgling military.

Baghdad`s military remains heavily dependent on US
logistical support, air power, equipment and expertise, while
many Baghdad politicians privately acknowledge that American
troops are needed as a peacekeeping force in reserve.

PTI