Oct. 17 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. still hopes to reach agreement with the government of Iraq on keeping U.S. forces there past the end of the year, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said today.
“At the present time, I’m not discouraged because we are still in negotiations with the Iraqis,” Panetta told reporters at the Pentagon.
To stay longer, the U.S. has insisted that its troops have immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts. Iraq has not agreed to that provision.
“Our hope is that the negotiators can ultimately find a way to resolve this issue in terms of what are the Iraqi needs and how can we best meet them,” Panetta said.
The current U.S. agreement with Iraq for keeping troops in the country expires at year end. Units have been steadily pulling out of the country.
If a new agreement is reached, the U.S. would leave troops behind to help train Iraq’s security forces.
The U.S. currently has abut 41,000 troops in Iraq, down from a peak of about 170,000.
Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said in e-mailed statement today that the U.S. has about 20 bases remaining, out of 485 at the peak of the mission.
The withdrawal has been “considered a success for both sides in implementing the joint commitments.” al-Dabbagh said.
--Editors: Steven Komarow, Terry Atlas
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