The U.S. Defense Department says it wants to turn over security responsibility to Iraqi forces as quickly as possible, but that the timing should be based on conditions. A spokesman repeated the position Tuesday in response to a statement by Iraq's prime minister calling for a full U.S. withdrawal by 2011. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.
As public jockeying continues in the final stages of U.S.-Iraq negotiations on the future presence of U.S. forces, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Makiki weighed in Tuesday, saying he wants all U.S. forces out by a fixed date in 2011. It appeared he was referring to all troops, not just combat units. Officials have usually been careful to differentiate between combat units and non-combat troops, who handle such missions as supply, logistics, medical services, air support and a variety of other tasks that the Iraqi military is not close to being able to provide for itself.
Later, other Iraqi officials were quoted as saying that even if the agreement calls for all U.S. troops to be out of Iraq, the government could later decide to invite some support troops to remain.
At the Pentagon, Spokesman Bryan Whitman had this response to Tuesday's statements in Baghdad.
"We share the same common goal as the Iraqi government, and that is to turn over more and more of the security responsibilities to the Iraqi security forces," he said. "That's proceeding well. But at the end of the day, nothing changes from the fact that we believe strongly that the withdrawal of U.S. forces, of coalition forces, ought to be based on the conditions on the ground. And what we are seeing is a dramatically improved situation in Iraq, with respect to security, and an ever increasingly capable Iraqi security force."
Whitman said it is that increasing capability that is making it possible to even discuss the withdrawal of U.S. forces. He also said Prime Minister Maliki's statement outlined "some aspirational goals that are fairly far into the future." And he said there is still no final agreement on all the terms of the pending accord.