In talks with Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ruled out the extension of the US military presence. The current Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) requires the US to withdraw by the end of December.
US officials have repeatedly pressured Maliki to sign off on an extension that would keep US troops in the country through 2012, and possibly much longer, arguing that the country cannot fend off hypothetical external threats from unnamed enemies.
Maliki, by contrast, told Mullen he believes Iraq’s military is “ready” to provide security. He said the Iraqi government would continue to acquire better weapons but believed the security forces were more than capable of taking responsibility now. The Pentagon has yet to comment.
The decision to allow an extension would have been an extremely dangerous one for Maliki, as one of the key partners in his government, Moqtada al-Sadr, has condemned calls for the US to remain. Sadr even threatened a return to “armed resistance” if US troops tried to stay beyond 2011.
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