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Panetta: U.S. Troops In Iraq Beyond 2011

WASHINGTON, Ill., Aug. 19 (UPI) — Iraq has agreed to allow non-combat U.S. forces to remain in the country beyond the end of 2011, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Friday.

All U.S. forces had been scheduled to leave Iraq by Dec. 31 and Panetta said the drawdown is progressing on schedule. When he visited Iraq six weeks ago, Panetta urged Iraqi authorities to make a decision soon on what kind of relationship they want with the U.S. military, beginning next year.

“My view is that they finally did say, ‘Yes,'” Panetta said in a small group press interview, the military newspaper Stars & Stripes reported. But, he said, no formal request has yet been filed.

The Iraqi government, however, took issue with Panetta’s remarks, with reports indicating officials have yet to decide on what kind of training force they want to stay.

“The secretary was asked if there had been progress in our discussions with the Iraqi government since his visit six weeks ago,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said in a statement. “He made clear that the Iraqis have said yes to discussions about the strategic relationship beyond 2011, and what that relationship might look like.”

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