Kurdistan President Masoud Barzani (Photo:Reuters)
The president of north Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region called on Tuesday for US forces to stay in Iraq past 2011 to avoid a civil war, accusing Iraqi leaders of hypocrisy on the divisive issue.
"We think that the presence of US forces in Iraq is still needed, and all the political blocs say this during bilateral meetings, but when they stand behind the microphone they say something else," Massud Barzani said during a meeting in Arbil with Kurdistan representatives based abroad.
"I think if US forces withdraw, internal war might take place, and foreign intervention will increase, as will sectarian problems," he said.
"Iraq needs the presence of US troops under any name, because the Iraqi security forces are not ready to protect the security of Iraq, the army is not ready to protect the borders of Iraq, and the Iraqi air force has nothing," he said.
Under the terms of a 2008 security pact, all US troops must withdraw from Iraq by year's end.
Iraqi politicians announced on August 3 that they would open talks with Washington over a military training mission to last beyond 2011.
Some Iraqi leaders have said US forces need to stay, including Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, who said in July that: "Is there a need for trainers and experts? The answer is 'yes.'"
But most have been extremely reluctant to call for an extension of the American presence publicly, as such a move is highly unpopular here.
Radical anti-US Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose now-disbanded Mahdi Army fought fierce battles with US forces, has warned of "war" if American troops remain in Iraq.