BAGHDAD — The United States remains open to keeping thousands of troops in Iraq beyond the end of the year if asked, but will require Iraqi forces to provide them with greater security, the U.S. envoy to Iraq said Saturday.
Ambassador James F. Jeffrey told reporters at a roundtable in the capital that the Obama administration would consider a request to keep some of the roughly 46,000 U.S. troops here, but added, “We do need the Iraqi forces to help us secure our troops and, frankly, to secure themselves.”
Most U.S. forces are scheduled to leave by year’s end as part of a three-year security agreement, while about 17,000 U.S. diplomats and private contractors stay on.
But Iraq’s top political leaders are expected to meet again this week to consider asking the United States to keep forces here into next year. Jeffrey would not say Saturday how many troops would be likely to remain.
His comments followed the deaths of 15 U.S. troops in June, the bloodiest month for the U.S. military here in two years. Military and diplomatic officials blame Iraqi Shiite insurgent groups for the attacks, saying they have obtained deadlier weapons from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps and other Iranian sources.
Warning of continued instability, Jeffrey said insurgent groups would be carrying out attacks across the country regardless of the U.S. military’s presence.
“If we weren’t around, they’d go after somebody else,” he said. “We’re target number one right now, but they’ll find other targets. This is a problem that Iraq has to deal with.”