A U.S. military commander in northern Iraq says his combat troops might remain in the violent city of Mosul beyond the middle of this year, which is the deadline for a U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraqi cities.
Colonel Gary Volesky told U.S. reporters by teleconference Tuesday that his soldiers will only remain in Mosul beyond June 30 if the Iraqi government wants them to stay there. Mosul is considered al-Qaida's last stronghold in Iraq.
Violence remains common in Mosul, as extremists exploit divisions between the city's Arabs, Kurds and other ethnic and religious groups. Iraq's own troops staged a major military operation in Mosul about one year ago, but they were unable to rout the militants.
U.S. combat forces are set to leave Iraqi cities by the middle of this year, and they are to fully withdraw from the country by August of 2010.
But tens of thousands of U.S. troops are to remain in Iraq until the end of 2011 to support and train Iraqi security forces.
Last week, a suicide bomber in Mosul killed five U.S. soldiers in the single largest loss of American life in Iraq in more than a year. Two Iraqi policeman were also killed in that blast.