US Ready to Extend Stay if Iraq Asks

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates
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U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates

The U.S. defense secretary says the U.S. is willing to keep troops in Iraq past the current deadline, but only if that is what Iraq’s leaders want.

Robert Gates made the comment to reporters in Kuala Lumpur Tuesday after a meeting with Malaysia’s defense minister.


The current agreement calls for U.S. troops to leave Iraq by the end of 2011.

A rising wave of violence has prompted U.S. and Iraqi officials to express a willingness to revisit the deal. But Gates said any request would have to come from a functioning Iraqi government.

Iraqis went to the polls in March to elect a new government, but no one bloc won an outright majority, and the country’s leading political parties remain deadlocked eight months later.

Iraq’s quarrelsome politicians are meeting for a second day Tuesday in an attempt to resolve their differences.

The meeting in Baghdad comes one day after a gathering in the northern Kurdish city of Irbil failed to produce any substantial breakthrough.

Iraqis have been waiting for either Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki or his main rival, former prime minister Ayad Allawi, to form a governing coalition since the March 7 vote.

Meanwhile, violence claimed at least 21 lives in a series of car bombings Monday, including a blast in the southern Shi’ite city of Basra that killed five people and wounded 30.

Earlier, two separate attacks targeted buses carrying Iranian pilgrims in the southern Shi’ite holy cities of Najaf and Karbala, killing at least 16 people and wounding 50 more.

Hundreds of thousands of pilgrims visit Iraq’s holy Shi’ite shrines every year. There was no claim of responsibility for Monday’s attacks, but Sunni militant groups – who view Shi’ite Muslims as apostates – often target the pilgrims.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.