BAGHDAD, April 7, 2011 — As the drawdown of remaining U.S. forces in Iraq nears, any U.S. military presence to remain in Iraq beyond this year would be geared toward specific kinds of assistance the Iraqi government requests and would involve “far fewer forces” than the 47,000 U.S. service members in Iraq today, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters here today.
Morrell briefed reporters on meetings Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates had this afternoon with top Iraqi leaders, and he said Gates expressed willingness to work with Iraqi officials in determining how the United States can help beyond the previously agreed-upon withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq by the end of the year.
The most-pressing issue in the bilateral U.S.-Iraqi relationship is what happens after this year with regard to the status of forces agreement and the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq, the Pentagon press secretary said.
“I think his fundamental message there was, ‘It’s really up to you. You need to figure out what you need of us — what functions that you think still need developing, and how we can help to that end, and therefore, what you need to ask of us. But the ball is really in your court to figure that out and then approach us with what your requirements are, and then we’re willing to work with you to figure out how we can be of assistance,’ ” Morrell said.
Iraqi leaders seem to be open to some type of continued U.S. presence beyond this year, Morrell added.
“It is our sense that there is a recognition on the part of Iraqi leaders that there is still a need for U.S. forces in some capacity -– whether it be to assist them in training on the weapons systems that they are purchasing or in terms of filling the gaps in their capabilities, particularly in regard to external defense,” he said. “But there are obviously political challenges associated with that that they need to address.”
But even if Iraq requests a continued U.S. presence beyond 2011, Morrell emphasized, the scope would not approach current levels.
“This is not a discussion about how to retain [47,000 to 50,000] forces in Iraq,” he said. “The discussion here is about how to fulfill particular needs in their security architecture, and that will require far fewer forces than what are currently here.”
Gates discussed a wide range of issues in meetings with senior Iraqi leaders, including Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq and President Jalal Talabani, Morrell said.
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)