WASHINGTON — A small US force might remain in Iraq after a 2011 deadline for withdrawal as the Baghdad government will likely need help with newly-purchased American weapons, a top US general said on Wednesday.
"Iraq continues to buy significant amounts of military material from the United States," General Ray Odierno, the commander of US forces in Iraq, told a news conference at the Pentagon.
"They've committed to M1A1 tanks, they've committed to helicopters, they committed to other things," he said.
Under a security agreement with Iraq, the United States is required to withdraw all its troops from the country by the end of 2011.
But with US military hardware bought by Baghdad due to arrive in coming months, Odierno said there will be "some requirement for us to continue to coordinate and help them to bring those systems on board" after 2011.
The general said he expected that would require a "small contingent" to train and advise the Iraqis, depending on what Baghdad requested.
"But that would be a decision made by the government of Iraq," he said.
US officials previously have left open the possibility of retaining a smaller American force in Iraq after the 2011 deadline if the Iraqi government asks for assistance.
Odierno, echoing other US officials, said a drawdown of US troops was on track and that he did not anticipate elections next month to derail those plans.
The commander said if political tensions after the March 7 vote threatened to turn violent, he had prepared contingency plans to slow down the pace of withdrawal if necessary.
The US military plans to pull out all of its combat forces by the end of August, leaving behind a 50,000 force.
"I fully expect us to be down to approximately 50,000 by September 1st," Odierno said.