Iraq blocs to take two more weeks on U.S. troop issue

Sat Jul 9, 2011 3:47pm GMT


Any decision by the premier to extend the presence of U.S. troops is risky. Anti-American Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose Sadrist bloc is a key ally of Maliki's government, has threatened to unleash his militia of Mehdi Army if U.S. forces fail to leave by year-end.

Some Iraqi and U.S. officials have expressed concern over the readiness of Iraqi military forces to defend Iraq and to fend off a stubborn insurgency still capable of lethal attacks.

Naseer al-Ani, Talabani's chief of staff, said the leaders agreed on Saturday to delay the U.S. troop decision until the parties agree on interior and defence ministers.

Maliki did not name permanent ministers to the two posts, which control the police and army, when he formed his Cabinet in December. He has been serving as acting minister for the key security jobs.

"This issue (U.S. presence in Iraq) was delayed till the issue of security ministers is solved, because these two issues are connected with each other," Ani said.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said recently Iraq had not yet requested a troop extension and time was running out.

(Editing by Jim Loney and Peter Cooney)

<p>U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates (L) meets with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani at the presidential palace in Baghdad April 7, 2011. REUTERS/Chip Somodevilla/Pool</p>
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