Iraq still seeking US trainers, PM Maliki says

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraq will continue talks with Washington on how US trainers can work with Iraqi forces after a complete withdrawal of American troops at the end of the year, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said yesterday.

US President Barack Obama announced on Friday that all US troops would leave Iraq as scheduled by the end of this year after the two governments failed to reach an agreement over giving American soldiers legal immunity.

“Now that we have put this behind us, this will let us settle the issue of training,” Maliki said. “Iraqis will ask to resume talks over the number of trainers, the duration (of their stay in Iraq) and how those trainers will be used.”

More than eight years after the invasion to topple Saddam Hussein, violence has fallen since the sectarian slaughter of 2006-2007. But Iraq still faces a stubborn Sunni Islamist insurgency tied to al Qaeda and rival Shi’ite militias.

US and Iraqi officials say the local armed forces can contain violence but they need trainers to help build up air defense, maritime capabilities, intelligence gathering and moving the military to conventional warfare tactics.

Iraq will get some military training from a US embassy programme and from contractors who are part of a package with the US-made military hardware Baghdad is purchasing, such as F-16 fighter jets and tanks.

Military advisers working at the embassy are covered by diplomatic immunity afforded to the State Department.

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