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Gates: No Signs of 2011 Full-Withdrawal Date Slipping

More from Defense Secretary Bob Gates’ press conference call about withdrawing from Iraq. Gates was asked if he supported keeping troops in Iraq beyond 2011, when the Status of Forces Agreement that President Obama pledged today to support mandates a full U.S. withdrawal. Gates said such a move would require a revision of the SOFA, a move that, if it happened, would “almost certainly” come from an Iraqi request, not U.S. initiative, and the “Iraqis have not said anything” about such a revision.

“It’s hypothetical, because no such request has been made, and there’s no indication it will be at this point,” he said, cautioning that his “own view” would be to “be prepared to have a very modest presence for training, help with equipment and providing perhaps intelligence support beyond” 2011. But the terms of the Status of Forces Agreement are “what we are operating under now.”

Also, I asked Gates about Obama making U.S. support for training Iraqi security forces dependent on their record of acting in a nonsectarian fashion. Gates said that “we think we have a pretty good feel” for the Army “developing on nonsectarian lines,” and cited its March performance in Basra — where Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite, sent Army units that included many Shiites to fight the Shiite Mahdi Army — as evidence. “If we saw concerns” about units “acting in a nonsectarian fashion, we’d present them to the Iraqi leadership,” Gates said. Clearly it would take several steps before the U.S. withdrew support for a given Iraqi Army unit.

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