BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq has not requested an extension of an end-2011 deadline for the United States to withdraw its troops, the top U.S. military officer said on Friday, following talks with Iraq's prime minister.
Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on a visit to Baghdad that Iraq would need to begin talks very soon if it wanted to alter that plan in order to avoid "irrevocable logistics and operational decisions we must make in the coming weeks."
Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has said the country's police and army are ready and U.S. troops will not be needed beyond the year's end.
Maliki said in a statement released on his website late on Thursday that the government was keen to develop relations with the United States, particularly with regards to training and arming its security forces.
"Our security forces are now able to hold the responsibility, preserve the security and to act professionally and patriotically," Maliki said.
"We will enhance its combat ability through supplying it with modern arms and equipment."
Although the capacity of government forces to fend off an insurgency still capable of lethal attacks remains a concern, any extended U.S. troops' presence is politically tricky for Iraqi leaders.
Anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose Sadr bloc is part of Maliki's government, will "escalate military resistance" and unleash his Mehdi army militia if U.S. troops fail to leave Iraq by year-end, his aides said earlier this month.
Sadr's political movement won strong support in elections last year and overcame animosity toward Maliki to join his coalition government.
His Mehdi Army militia fought U.S. troops during the height of Iraq's sectarian violence in 2006-7 and Maliki sent government troops to crush the militia in 2008.
(Reporting by Jim Loney and Phil Stewart; Writing by Serena Chaudhry; Editing by Louise Ireland and Paul Taylor)
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