Baghdad (AFP) April 16, 2011
Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki insisted Iraqi forces were capable of maintaining security in the country during talks with US House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner in Baghdad on Saturday.
Maliki's evening meeting with Boehner and other US officials came around a week after Defence Secretary Robert Gates said time was running out for Iraq to ask if American forces could stay beyond an end-2011 pullout deadline.
"The Iraqi security forces and the armed forces have become able to take responsibility, to maintain security and to work efficiently," Maliki said, according to a statement released by his office.
"We look forward to future cooperation with the US in the field of arming and training."
There are currently around 50,000 US soldiers stationed in Iraq, down from a peak of nearly 170,000 following the 2003 US-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein.
All of those troops must withdraw from the country by the end of the year, according to the terms of a bilateral security pact.
Gates said on a surprise trip to Iraq on April 8 that American forces were prepared to stay in any role beyond the scheduled pullout, but time was running out for Baghdad to ask.
"My basic message to them is (for us to) just be present in some areas where they still need help. We are open to that possibility," said the Pentagon chief.
"But they have to ask, and time is running out in Washington," he said at Camp Marez, the US military base where he visited US troops.
A senior US military official also said on Wednesday that Iraqi leaders should not expect American forces to return to help in a crisis after they have pulled out.
"If we left -- and this is the health warning we would give to anybody -- be careful about assuming that we will come running back to put out the fire if we don't have an agreement," the official said on condition of anonymity.
"It's hard to do that."
Saturday's statement said Maliki also met US Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, US Ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey, and other members of Congress.
US embassy spokesman David Ranz earlier confirmed Boehner's arrival to AFP, but declined to say who the speaker would meet or how long his trip would last.
The trip to Iraq is Boehner's first since being elected speaker following November 2010 mid-term elections.
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