The Iraqi government could request US troops to stay beyond 2011, but no such request has yet been made.
“Should the Iraqi government desire to discuss the potential for some US troops to stay, I am certain my government would welcome the dialogue,” Admiral Mullen said during his April 22 visit to Iraq.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates has echoed these sentiments, telling an audience at the American Enterprise Institute on May 24 that having US troops remain beyond 2011 “sends a powerful signal to the region that we’re not leaving, that we will continue to play a part. I think it would not be reassuring to Iran, and that’s a good thing,” he added.
As recently as last week, senior US officials predicted that Iraq was poised to become “a political and economic leader in the Middle East.” Colin Kahl, deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East, acknowledged, however, that there remain considerable concerns in the Pentagon “about the readiness of the Iraqi government to provide security in Iraq as US forces draw down.”