Panetta Presses Iraq for Decision on Troops
By ELISABETH BUMILLER
Published: July 11, 2011
BAGHDAD — Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta pressed Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq on Monday to tell the United States whether he wanted some American troops to remain in Iraq into 2012. He said that time was running out and that the American military needed to know.
“Do they want us to stay, don’t they want us to stay?” Mr. Panetta told a gathering of American troops, expressing exasperation with the Iraqi government and pushing Mr. Maliki to name defense and interior ministers, two key government appointments.
“Damn it, make a decision,” Mr. Panetta concluded.
Making his first visit to Iraq as defense secretary, Mr. Panetta met with Mr. Maliki and the Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani. According to Douglas B. Wilson, a Pentagon spokesman, Mr. Panetta told them that any request for an extended American troop presence in Iraq “needs to be made sooner rather than later.”
In the same meetings, he pressed them to name an Iraqi defense minister and an interior minister — crucial posts that have been vacant for more than a year — as a way to accelerate a decision on American troops. A statement released by Mr. Maliki’s office said that the Iraqi military had “growing capabilities” and was ready to take on “any target that created a threat to the country’s security and stability.”
All 46,000 remaining United States troops in Iraq are scheduled to leave by the end of this year. But Iraqi and American military commanders believe that some should stay beyond that. Obama administration officials say the United States will consider staying only if Iraq asks.
Zaid Thaker contributed reporting.