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US troops in Iraq: US, Maliki weigh possible extension

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"How many of you know when you're going to be going home?" Gen. Martin Dempsey, the US Army's top general, asked a group of soldiers during a recent visit to Baghdad. Only a handful raised their hands.

Dempsey, who arrived in Baghdad as commander of the 1st Armored Division in 2003, was told then that US forces would be in Iraq for only six months.

"When we were deployed we weren't sure how long we'd be here. We weren't really sure what we'd be asked to do," he told the soldiers. "I'd suggest that's where you are right now. You're giving the nation options."

US, Maliki potentially open to extension

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has expressed an openness to keeping a US military presence in Iraq past December.

"Should the Iraqi government desire to discuss the potential for some US troops to stay, I am certain my government will welcome that dialogue," he said at a late April news conference in Baghdad. He warned, however, that that request had to be made within the next few weeks.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said on May 11 that he was open to an extended US stay if there was enough backing from Iraqis, but was vague about how much support he would require – and from whom. He has insisted that Iraqi forces can take care of their internal security – "our agencies and our forces have become competent and capable of controlling the security situation," he said last month – but acknowledged that Iraq needs help meeting outside threats.

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