Gates Discusses Post-2011 Relationship With Iraqi Leaders

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)

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