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Iraqi Lawmakers To Decide on US Troop Extension Soon

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani says political parties will decide within two weeks whether to seek an extension of the U.S. troops presence in the country beyond the December pull-out date.

Mr. Talabani announced the decision Saturday after meeting with political blocs in Baghdad.

About 45,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq. They are due to withdraw by December 31st under an agreement between Washington and Baghdad.

However, top U.S. officials have said they would be willing to consider leaving some troops in the country, if requested by Iraq.

Both U.S. and Iraqi officials have expressed concern about Baghdad's ability to completely handle security after the pull-out.

On Thursday, the top U.S. military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen, said Iraqi security forces would have "capability gaps" in areas that include air defense and intelligence. He told reporters the two countries had been discussing the concerns.

In April, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Malaki said his country might need assistance with external security after the withdrawal date.

Some Iraqis have voiced opposition to a possible U.S. extension - including supporters of Iraq's anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

The U.S. has maintained a military presence in Iraq since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that resulted in the ouster of leader Saddam Hussein.