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Monday, June 13, 2011     INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

CIA: Iraq to seek continuing U.S. presence
for stability

WASHINGTON — The U.S. intelligence community expects Iraq to request a continued American military presence.


The intelligence community has assessed that the Shi'ite-led government of Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki would ask the U.S. military to remain in Iraq. Officials said Al Maliki was discussing options for a small but effective U.S. force that could help maintain internal stability as well as deter neighboring Iran.

"I think it's clear to me that Iraq is considering the possibility of making a request for some kind of presence to remain there," CIA director Leon Panetta said. "I have every confidence that a request like that is something that I think will be forthcoming at some point."

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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 of 2011.

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 fighters.

"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."

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