Iraqi official foresees a U.S. military presence until 2016

September 14, 2010 - 0:0

BAGHDAD (Los Angeles Times)-- Some form of U.S. military presence will be needed in Iraq at least until 2016 to provide training, support and maintenance for the vast quantity of military equipment and weaponry that Iraq is buying from America, Iraqi Defense Minister Abdul Qader Obeidi said.

In addition, Iraq will continue to need help with intelligence gathering after 2011, and the fledgling Iraqi air force will require U.S. assistance at least until 2020, the date by which Iraq aims to achieve the capability to defend its airspace, Obeidi said.
The comments were made in an interview a week after President Obama declared the end of U.S. combat operations and reaffirmed America's commitment to pull out all its troops by the end of 2011, under the terms of a security agreement reached by the Bush administration and the Iraqi government in 2008.
“Maybe endlessly,” said Obeidi when asked how long U.S. support may be necessary. “As long as I have an army and I'm a Third World country, and I can't pretend that I'm better than that … I will need assistance.
Obeidi, who is regarded as a close ally of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, stopped short of calling for the continuation of U.S. bases in Iraq beyond the Dec. 31, 2011, deadline for withdrawal of all troops. At this point, 50,000 U.S. troops remain in the country to advise and assist Iraqi forces. The form of any future presence will be up to the next Iraqi government, in negotiations with Washington, Obeidi said.
But it is becoming increasingly clear that many in Iraq's defense establishment, as well as within the U.S. military, believe that Iraqi security forces will need U.S. military assistance for many years.
In an interview last month, the chief of staff of the Iraqi armed forces, Gen. Babakir Zebari, predicted the need for U.S. forces to remain in Iraq until 2020, and said he would like to see America maintain “three or four bases” to help deter possible threats from Iraq's neighbors. U.S. officials have also said Iraq's army will need assistance beyond 2011.
Obeidi said he didn't envisage a need for U.S. troops to help defend Iraq's borders, even though Iraqi troops won't be ready to do so until 2016. There are other means to defend a country, he said, such as through peace treaties with neighboring countries.
But, he said, trainers and advisors will continue to be necessary and they will need troops to protect them.
Iraq has ordered or requested more than $13 billion worth of U.S. arms, as well as a shipment of 18 F-16s, which aren't expected to arrive at least until 2013 even if the order receives swift congressional approval.
The question of what kind of presence would be necessary is likely to come to the fore only after a new Iraqi government is in place. Negotiations among political factions dragged into a seventh month this week, and the participants have yet to make any significant progress toward agreeing on who will be in charge.