100s protest US presence in Iraq

2011-04-23 21:47

Mosul - Hundreds of Iraqis gathered in the northern city of Mosul for the 15th day in a row amid tight security to protest against the US presence in the country.

Tribal leaders and members of the provincial council joined more than 1 000 protesters who vowed to continue their rallies until US forces leave the country.

Protesters gathered in one of central Mosul's main squares, defying an all-day curfew as police cited a security threat.

At least one protester was killed and 44 injured when security forces fired live ammunition to disperse hundreds of protesters gathered on Friday.

Iraqis have held a series of protests over the last two weeks in opposition to suggestions that US troops might stay beyond their scheduled departure at the end of 2011, as well as demanding the release of prisoners jailed for long periods without being charged.

Scheduled withdrawal

Although both Iraqi and US officials have said in the past that a continued US presence was necessary for Iraq's national defence, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki recently told a visiting US official that Iraqi forces were "ready and capable" to protect the country.

During a visit earlier this month, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said the US was "willing to have a presence" in Iraq beyond the scheduled withdrawal, if requested by the Iraqi government.

A leader in Kurdistan Region's Coalition, Mahmoud Othman, said on Saturday there is US pressure on the Iraqi government to extend the presence of the US troops in the country, despite their scheduled withdrawal by the end of 2011.

"The government has not demanded the extension of the US troops presence till now. But there are officials, who have stated that the Iraqi forces were not prepared to take over the security file," Othman told the Aswat al-Iraq news website.

Admiral Mike Mullen, chair of the US military's Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a US military base outside Baghdad that Iraq's government must decide within weeks whether it wants any US troops to remain beyond the end of the year.

However, the two governments had not held official talks on extending the deployment, he said.

Less than 50 000 US troops remain in Iraq. The majority of US forces withdrew from the country in August.