Speaking on Thursday in Baghdad, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said US troops might well continue their presence in Iraq beyond the December 31 deadline mandated by the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). Gates said such a presence needed an official request by the Iraqi government.
At which point Secretary Gates urged the Iraqi government to “get on with it pretty quickly,” saying that there was a strong interest in a continued US military presence, but domestic Iraqi politics were stalling the request from the Maliki government.
The Iraqi coalition government includes a number of members, particularly the bloc loyal to Moqtada al-Sadr, strongly opposed to the continuation of the US presence, which began with a March 2003 invasion.
Secretary Gates had reported in mid-February that the Obama Administration was eager to keep the Iraq War going, and that Iraq would “face problems” if they refused to allow it. Maliki indicated previously that he was going to hold the US to the SOFA deadline. Few in either government are taking him at his word, however, with most assuming that some sort of US military presence will be on the ground in 2012.