In a briefing on July 27, Zebari provided the clearest response to a
U.S. offer to maintain its military beyond 2011. The Al Maliki government
has failed to decide on Washington's
proposal, and a deadline for a formal response set by President Jalal
Talabani expired on July 23.
Officials said Zebari's statement reflected an emerging position by
Baghdad that no more than 3,000 U.S. trainers would be allowed to remain in
Iraq in 2012. They said the trainers would include private contractors and
help the Iraqi military and security forces absorb the billions of dollars
of U.S. weapons ordered by Baghdad.
"I believe that things are heading to an agreement on having trainers
and experts not military forces with combat troops," Zebari said.
The U.S. military has maintained 46,000 troops in Iraq, most of them
scheduled to be withdrawn over the next four months. Officials said
Washington was ready to begin an accelerated pace of withdrawal by
"The Iraqi government alone cannot reach a decision on this issue,"
Zebari said. "It needs political and national consensus. It's an issue all
political leaders should back."
Officials said Al Maliki planned to discuss the U.S. proposal with his
Cabinet on July 30. The prime minister, who earlier spoke to U.S. Vice
President Joseph Biden, said any decision would then be relayed to
parliament for its approval.
"The prime minister assured Mr. Biden that in the end it is up to the
parliament to decide whether the country needs American forces to stay or
not after the end of this year," the prime minister's office said in a