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Iraq likely to miss troop request deadline

  |   July 22, 2011 at 11:28 AM
BAGHDAD, July 22 (UPI) -- Iraqi leaders likely will miss this weekend's deadline to decide whether to ask U.S. military troops to stay beyond December, U.S. and Iraqi officials said.

President Jalal Talabani gave Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and others until Saturday to reach agreement on what, if any, U.S. military presence Iraq may need beyond Dec. 31, the date American troops are to withdraw from Iraq.

However, Maliki and his rivals, beleaguered by other domestic political disputes, remain at odds, including how to make a formal request to the Obama administration for an extension, The Washington Post reported Thursday.

Because of the political stalemate, most U.S. officials said they don't expect a formal request from the Iraqis until September.

"The later they come, the harder it is to respond to that," Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, told the Post.

It would be more feasible if a request came now, "while we have troops here and infrastructure here," Buchanan said, than if the request is made after the bulk of U.S. troops have left.

Since President Obama declared the start of Operation New Dawn last September, the U.S. military has moved from combat missions to training Iraqi forces, conducting joint counter-terrorism operations, defending Iraq's skies and providing security for U.S. diplomats and contractors.

Security for U.S. civilians will be in the hands of private security firms next year, but Maliki and others suggested training, air defense and border patrol operations could be included in a new security agreement. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and other officials said the United States was willing to continue such operations, but only if Iraq formally requests them.

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