Last updated: 27 July, 2011

Zebari hopeful some US troops can stay post 2011

Iraq’s president has called a meeting to decide whether US troops should stay beyond a year-end deadline, Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Wednesday, adding there could be consensus to keep a small number of trainers.

President Jalal Talabani had set last weekend as the deadline for the Iraqi government to give a unified yes or no answer to Washington about some troops remaining, but it expired without an answer from Baghdad.

Zebari told reporters that Talabani had now called another meeting for Saturday to discuss the issue.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said in a telephone conversation with US Vice President Joe Biden that the issue would be decided in parliament, his office said.

“The prime minister assured Mr. Biden that in the end it is up to the parliament to decide whether the country needs American forces to stay or not after the end of this year,” a statement from Maliki’s office said, adding it was Biden who had called Maliki.

Zebari said he believed that some US troops were needed beyond 2011 to train Iraqi forces.

“Is there a need for trainers and experts? The answer is ‘yes,'” Zebari said. “I think it is possible to reach a consensus on this,” he added.

“The Iraqi government alone cannot reach a decision on this issue. It needs political and national consensus; it’s an issue all political leaders should back.”

“President Talabani has announced a decision to gather all political leaders this Saturday” to discuss the issue.

“In my assessment, it is possible to reach an acceptable agreement.”

The discussions about some troops staying on comes as the nearly 47,000 US troops now in Iraq are packing to pull out at the end of this year under the terms of 2008 pact.