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NPR's Kelly McEvers reports from Baghdad.
KELLY MCEVERS: Over the past two years, U.S. troops have remained in Iraq under a treaty between the two countries known as a status of forces agreement. It's set to expire at the end of this year. But American generals and Iraqi politicians have long hinted that the two sides might reach a deal to extend the deadline - if, of course, the Iraqi government formally requested it. Then came an interview Maliki granted the Wall Street Journal last week. In it he said the existing agreement is, quote, "sealed," that it's subject to neither extension nor alteration. But he did seem to leave open the possibility of a new agreement.
MOHAMMAD AL ASKARI: (Foreign language spoken)
MCEVERS: Mohammad al Askari is Maliki's defense spokesmen. He explained the Iraqi government's public position this way.
AL ASKARI: Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)
MCEVERS: James Jeffrey is the American ambassador here. He says what could happen is that some U.S. military personnel, namely officers and trainers, would remain in Iraq under the auspices of the embassy. This is already the case in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and elsewhere. Jeffrey says from the American perspective, at least, this would be perfectly legal.
JAMES JEFFREY: This is a normal part of a normal embassy in an area of the world where we have a large number of military sales and a robust security relationship. And it has nothing to do with stationing troops.
MCEVERS: Stephen Biddle at the Council on Foreign Relations says some U.S. troops should stay, mainly to play the role of peacekeepers between Sunnis and Shiites and Arabs and Kurds. That's not the kind of role, he says, that a corps of military officers attached to an embassy could play.
STEPHEN BIDDLE: If these guys are staff and not combat, then there are only certain discreet functions they can physically perform. I think having soldiers with weapons and some ability to kill people, visibly part of a column, is different than having what amounts to an office worker in a uniform.
MCEVERS: Kelly McEvers, NPR News, Baghdad.
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