Iraq will ask the US to keep troops in the country beyond an end-of-2011 pullout deadline, says outgoing CIA director Leon Panetta (pictured), the nominee to be the next US defence secretary.
Speaking at a US Senate committee considering his nomination he said he had “every confidence that a request like that will be forthcoming”, according to a report from the BBC.
The US currently has about 47,000 troops in Iraq, none in a combat role. Under a 2008 deal, they are expected to leave by 31 December 2011.
“It’s clear to me that Iraq is considering the possibility of making a request for some kind of [troop] presence to remain there [in Iraq],” Mr Panetta told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday.
He said that whether that happened depended on what Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki might ask for, but if Baghdad did make such a request, he added, Washington should say yes.
Mr Panetta did not say how many troops would be involved or what they would do. The current US contingent is deployed in a training and advisory role.
He said there were still some 1,000 al-Qaeda members in Iraq, and the situation remained “fragile”.
“I believe that we should take whatever steps are necessary to make sure that we protect whatever progress we’ve made there,” Mr Panetta said.