US & Canada

Mullen: Iraq must decide over US troop stay request

Adm Mike Mullen in Baghdad on 22 April
Image caption Adm Mullen described withdrawal planning as "a physical problem"

Iraq's government must decide within weeks whether it wants any US troops to remain beyond the end of 2011, the top US military officer has said.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm Mike Mullen said the US had soon to begin planning to withdraw the 47,000 troops and military kit still there.

Iraqi leaders have thus far said the US must withdraw as planned.

In Baghdad, Adm Mullen said the two governments had not held official talks on extending the deployment.

'Physical problem'

"Should the Iraqi government desire to discuss the potential for some US troops to stay, I am certain my government will welcome that dialogue," Adm Mullen said at a US military base outside Baghdad on Friday.

He said any request would have to come "in the next few weeks".

"Because there, for the withdrawal, there is what I call a physics problem with 47,000 troops here, lots of equipment and physically it just takes time to move them."

On Thursday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki said Iraqi troops could handle security duties when US troops pull out, more than eight years after the initial invasion to throw out Saddam Hussein's regime.

Adm Mullen harshly criticised statements by anti-American Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr suggesting he would unleash his Mahdi Army militia if US troops stay.

"The extension of that statement is to essentially threaten violence in the future," Adm Mullen said. "And Iraq has seen more than its fair share of violence and death."

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