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U.S. troops on target to leave Iraq this year

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- The U.S. intends to abide by its commitments in the 2008 U.S.-Iraq Security Agreement, including the obligation to complete the drawdown of U.S. forces there by the end of the year, Pentagon spokesman Marine Col. Dave Lapan said July 6.

Any news story that gives a number of U.S. troops remaining in Iraq after Dec. 31 is wrong, Lapan said.

"The process for troops to remain in the country after that date begins with an official request from the Iraqi government, and no such request has been made," he said. "Until the government of Iraq makes a request, there is no number."

Unless the Iraqi government makes such a request, there are no plans for a U.S. military presence there after this year, other than those Defense Department personnel assigned to the Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq.

Individual service members will be part of the U.S. embassy staff, as they are in most U.S. embassies around the world, and under authority of the chief of mission in Baghdad, Lapan said.

There are some 46,000 U.S. service members in Iraq today.

U.S. officials have said the U.S. would be willing to have some troops remain in country for a limited time, if Iraq asks.

Iraqi security forces, while increasingly capable, will have gaps in the defenses, officials said.

The Iraqi air force, for example, is not prepared to defend the country against external threats, officials have said, and the Iraqi army and police still have shortcomings in intelligence fusion, sustainment and logistics.

These are all areas where DOD can provide support, Lapan said.

But it begins with an Iraqi request for U.S. forces to remain past the deadline. If the Iraqi government makes the request, then officials of both countries will negotiate the number and status of the troops.

Put another way, "the administration has made it clear that if the Iraqis make a request for us to maintain some presence, then we will consider that request," Lapan said.

U.S. officials have made it clear that the Iraqis need to decide about U.S. military assistance soon.

"The longer they wait to make a decision, it has an impact as to what we're able to do, once we start withdrawing forces," he said.