Panetta in Iraq to discuss drawdown

July 10, 2011 at 10:52 PM

BAGHDAD, July 10 (UPI) -- Defense Secretary Leon Panetta arrived in Baghdad Sunday for meetings with Iraqi and American officials on the drawdown of U.S. forces in Iraq, officials said.

Panetta landed in Baghdad for his first trip to the country since taking over as defense secretary nine days ago, the Defense Department said in a release. He will be in negotiations about the last stage of the drawdown of U.S. presence in Iraq, and the potential of a continuing presence if requested by the Iraqi government. He will also be bringing up the topic of a long-term relationship with Iraq over a variety of issues, including economic, cultural, educational and security.

"There is concern with security there and what is being done to stop the Iranian weapons from coming into Iraq," he said, adding "We're now more than a year since the elections and we still don't have a minister of defense or a minister of the interior," which leaves the Iraqi security forces with gaps in capabilities.

"These could be helped by a small U.S. presence," an unnamed senior defense official said.

Panetta will be meeting with President Jalal Talibani and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and also Kurdish President Massoud Barzani.

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