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Aug 19, 2011 Comments Off Angelia

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USA Today:

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta says Iraq has agreed to keep non-combat U.S. forces in the country beyond 2011, and that the Pentagon is negotiating a new agreement, Stars & Stripes reports.

“My view is that they finally did say, ‘Yes,’ ” Panetta tells a small group of reporters in his Pentagon office today, the newspaper reports.

Stars & Stripes says Panetta, who only recently took office, is the highest-ranking U.S. official to indicate so clearly that the U.S. is no longer assuming nearly all 46,000 troops will be out of Iraq by Dec. 31.

Although Iraqi leaders have yet to make a formal request, Panetta says, the Pentagon is moving ahead on an agreement because there is unanimous consent among key Iraqi leaders to address U.S. demands, the newspaper reports.

Those include that Iraqis begin negotiating among themselves what type of U.S. training force they would like, begin a process to select a defense minister, draw up a new Status of Forces Agreement and increase operations against Iranian-backed militants.

As negotiations continue, he says, the U.S. planned drawdown will continue.

“We will fulfill the commitment that we are going to take all of the combat forces out of Iraq,” Panetta says, according to the newspaper.