Boehner Supports Keeping Some Troops in Iraq Past Year End

John Boehner

Mr. Boehner, in an interview with news organizations, said he reached that decision after meetings with American military and diplomatic officials in Iraq as well as conversations with Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki that convinced him of looming gaps in Iraqi security arrangements.

“I think Iraq is critical to our immediate and long-term national security interests,” said Mr. Boehner, who also visited Pakistan and Afghanistan over the spring Congressional recess. He added that too much had been invested “to simply just walk away.”

“I think a small residual force should remain and the sooner the administration engages the Iraqi government, I think the better off we are going to be,” he said.

As the top Republican and chief official of the House, Mr. Boehner’s position carries enormous weight in Congress and his view would be crucial in shaping the Republican majority’s military and fiscal position on Iraq. He would be likely to meet resistance from members of both parties who believe the occupation has gone on too long and is too costly given the current fight over budget deficits.

Under the current framework, all American soldiers are to be out of Iraq before the beginning of 2012, a departure specified in a security agreement between the two countries. But there have been indications that the Iraqi government is willing to ask that some troops stay longer. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has suggested that some American military forces could remain.

Even as he supported the idea, Mr. Boehner noted the situation was politically delicate in Iraq and in the United States, where President Obama has pledged to withdraw American forces.

Mr. Boehner said he had no recommendation on the size of the contingent that might remain or how long the troops should stay, but the military has been exploring the idea of a force of about 10,000, people briefed on the plan said. At the end of April, there were 47,000 American troops in Iraq.

“There is assistance they are going to need,” Mr. Boehner said. “I would hope that our military and diplomatic officials begin serious conversations with the Iraqis in terms of identifying those gaps in their security that they have and try to come to an agreement as soon as possible.”

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