In testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, Panetta did not say
when Al Maliki would make the request. The CIA director, nominated to become
the next defense secretary, also did not say how many American soldiers
would be asked to remain in Iraq.
Currently, about 47,000 troops were deployed in Iraq, responsible mostly
for training and mentoring Baghdad's military and security forces, Middle East Newsline reported. Under an
agreement, the U.S. military was to withdraw all troops from Iraq by the end
Panetta, whose testimony on June 9 reflected that of the intelligence
community, said Iraq, despite the rapid growth of its military and police,
remained under threat. He cited the Al Qaida presence, said to contain 1,000
"The main challenges to internal stability and security in Iraq are Al
Qaida in Iraq and Iranian-backed Shia extremist groups," Panetta said.
"Moreover, the unresolved status of territories claimed by the Kurdistan
Regional Government has the potential to create fissures that can be
exploited by extremist groups, and could even lead to an escalation of
tension between Kurdish and central government forces. However, with
sustained political engagement by Iraqi leaders and a strong U.S. support
role, the ISF should be able to handle these challenges."
Officials as well as congressional sources said Washington envisions the
retention of a 10,000-member U.S. force in Iraq past 2011. They said the
American soldiers would continue training Iraqis while serve as a rapid
deployment force to preserve stability.
"Iraqi leaders and U.S. officials have acknowledged that there will be
gaps in Iraqi security forces' capabilities after 2011, especially in
external defense," Panetta said. "I believe the United States should
consider a request from the government of Iraq to remain in Iraq for a
limited period of time to provide limited assistance to fill these gaps."