Iraq PM calls for national dialogue over US troops

AFP , Wednesday 11 May 2011

Iraqi prime minister seeks consensus of political groups on continued presence of US troops beyond the deadline laid down in bilateral security pact

Nouri al-Maliki
Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki (Photo: AP)

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki called for a dialogue on Wednesday with rival blocs to gauge whether or not US troops currently in Iraq should stay beyond a year-end deadline for their withdrawal.

Maliki's remarks reiterate comments he made last month, when he said he would hold talks with other parties to reach a nationwide consensus on the issue, with US officials pressing Baghdad to decide within weeks whether it wants a longer-term US military presence.

"The decision about the US withdrawal is a huge national task, so I will call all the blocs' leaders to have a dialogue to say whether they want to keep the forces or not," Maliki told a news conference in Baghdad.

"After that, the government will decide on keeping them, or making them leave." Maliki said on 26 April that he would make such a call after returning from a planned trip to South Korea, which he completed this month.

He has previously alluded to domestic political difficulties he would have in seeking approval in parliament for an extension for US forces.

Around 45,000 American troops are currently stationed in Iraq, with all US forces required to leave the country by the end of the year, according to a bilateral security pact.

Maliki himself warned last month that Iraq was lacking when it comes to protecting its borders, but insisted that none of its neighbours would invade.

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