U.S. defense chief says he hopes Iraq will ask for longer U.S. stay

09:39, May 25, 2011      

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U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Tuesday that he hopes the Iraqi government will ask U.S. troops to stay beyond the end of this year, when they are scheduled to pull out from the country.

"All I can say is that from the standpoint of Iraq's future but also our role in the region, I hope they figure out a way to ask (for longer U.S. military presence)," Gates said at a conference at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank.

"And I think the United States will be willing to say yes when that time comes," he said.

In mid 2010, U.S. troops in Iraq had been reduced to below 50,000 soldiers. Washington said that the remaining U.S. troops in Iraq are conducting support and training missions.

U.S. military forces are to pull out completely from Iraq by the end of 2011, according to the security pact signed late in 2008 between Baghdad and Washington.

Still, the defense secretary conceded that it would not be easy for Iraqi leaders to make such a request.

"We have to realize that it is a political challenge for the Iraqis, because whether we like it or not, we're not very popular there," he said.

Last month, anti-U.S. Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr threatened to resume activities of his Mahdi Army militia against the American troops if they stay in the country after the end of 2011.

Source: Xinhua
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