x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

US open to keeping troops in Iraq past 2011: Gates

The US defence secretary Robert Gates says Washington is open to keeping troops in Iraq after the 2011 pullout.

Washington was open to keeping troops in Iraq after 2011, but it was up to Baghdad to decide, the US defence secretary Robert Gates said today.

"In terms of the future strategic relationship beyond the end of 2011, I would say that the initiative clearly needs to come from the Iraqis," Mr Gates said at a press conference in Kuala Lumpur.

"We are open to discussing it," he said, but indicated that any talks on the issue would have wait until Iraqi political leaders agree a power-sharing deal and name key ministers, he said.

Many observers expect Iraq to ask the US not to completely pull out its forces at the end of 2011, amid Iraqi politicians' failure to resolve the country's political crisis and its inability to secure its oil fields and border.

On Monday Iraq's political rivals met to discuss a proposed new power-sharing accord but ended a first day of talks without a deal as the Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish blocs stuck to their demands.

The meeting in the northern city of Arbil attended by the prime minister Nuri al Maliki and his chief rival, the former premier Iyad Allawi, followed an agreement on Saturday between the main Shiite bloc and a Kurdish coalition.

Iraq's second general election since the 2003 US-led invasion ended in deadlock after none of the main parties won enough of the 325 seats in parliament to form a majority government.

Parliament has since remained in hiatus, but on October 24 the supreme court ordered MPs to resume work and choose a speaker. The constitution stipulates that a speaker, president and prime minister must be elected in that order.