Over 15,000 U.S. servicemen to remain in Iraq beyond 2011 deadline   2011-04-26 16:16:45 FeedbackPrintRSS

BAGHDAD, April 26 (Xinhua) -- The Iraqi government is preparing to accept the presence of more than 15,000 U.S. servicemen in Iraq to protect the U.S. interests after the deadline of U.S. troops' pullout by the end of 2011, an Iraqi newspaper reported on Tuesday.

"The Iraqi government will arrange a special status that would allow more than 15,000 U.S. servicemen to stay in Iraq beyond the end of this year," al-Mashriq newspaper quoted well-informed sources as saying.

It also said that thousands of employees working for foreign security firms will stay in the country to protect the U.S. embassy staff, American civil contractors, engineers and investors.

"The full U.S. troops withdrawal will be announced as scheduled (by the end of 2011) and the remaining of thousands of U.S. troops will be attributed to protect the embassy staff, foreign diplomatic corps and international companies in the country," the newspaper said.

Maliki is planning to send a delegation headed by Abdul-Haleem al-Zheiri, a leading figure in Maliki's Dawa part, to the neighboring Iran to explain his move and to give assurances to Tehran that the remaining U.S. troops will not be used against Iran, it added.

"The delegation will also ask Tehran to put pressure on Moqtada al-Sadr to accept the new arrangements and not to unleash his Mahdi Army militiamen," the paper said.

On April 9, anti-U.S. Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr threatened to resume activities of his Mahdi Army militia against the American troops if they stay in the country after the end of 2011.

Earlier, Maliki ruled out signing a new security pact with the United States to extend the presence of its troops in the country.

"The Prime Minister ruled out possibility for any new security agreement to prolong the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq, because the (current) document of the strategic agreement (SOFA) is clear in this respect," Maliki said in a statement.

However, Maliki noted that not signing another security agreement doesn't mean that Iraq will not cooperate and coordinate with the United States in the fields of training and arming Iraqi troops, the statement said.

In mid 2010, U.S. troops in Iraq had been reduced to below 50, 000 soldiers. Washington said that the remaining U.S. troops in Iraq are conducting support and training missions.

U.S. military forces are to pull out completely from Iraq by the end of 2011 according to the security pact named (Status of Forces Agreement, or SOFA) signed late in 2008 between Baghdad and Washington.

Special Report: Situation in Iraq

Editor: Chen Zhi
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