Maliki, in U.S., Seeks To Boost Military Arsenal
By AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Published: 23 Jul 2009 21:30 Print | Email
WASHINGTON - Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on July 23 discussed Iraq's need for more weapons and equipment to bolster the fledgling democracy's military capabilities, during talks at the Pentagon.
The Iraqis "have many needs... and they are not afraid to articulate them," Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell told reporters following a late-afternoon meeting between Maliki and Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Morrell declined to cite specific military platforms Baghdad has requested, amid speculation that the Iraqi government is seeking F-16 fighter jets.
There were no tense moments during the meeting, which lasted less than one hour, according to Morrell.
Rather, he added, Maliki was "on top of the world" during the talks, in which Iraqi Defense Minister Abdel Qader Obeidi, Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill also participated.
Earlier, Maliki hinted that he might accept that U.S. forces remain in Iraq beyond the end of 2011, as required under a bilateral agreement reached in November.
"Pursuant to the agreement, in 2011, the military presence of the Americans will take end in Iraq," Maliki told a U.S. think-tank.
"Nevertheless, if the Iraqi forces required further training and further support, we shall examine this then at that time based on the needs of Iraq."
Iraqi and U.S. officials have insisted the December 31, 2011 deadline is a firm one, a commitment Obama said Wednesday he would fulfill.
"I am sure that the prospects... and the desire of such cooperation is found among both parties," Maliki said in Arabic at the U.S. Institute of Peace, according to the translation of his remarks by an interpreter.
The Iraqi leader has declared June 30 a national holiday to mark the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraqi cities on that day.
Obama has also vowed to remove all U.S. combat troops from the country by August 2010, leaving only a residual force of trainers and other military personnel largely fulfilling a support role.
Although the 130,000 U.S. troops remaining in Iraq have largely left Iraq's urban areas, Maliki said last month that American air capacity would be crucial to support local forces in ensuring security.