'US troops need immunity to stay in Iraq'
The top US military chief Admiral Mike Mullen
The top US military officer has urged the Iraqi government to grant American troops legal immunity if it wants them to stay in the country beyond a year-end deadline.
Admiral Mike Mullen, the outgoing chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on Tuesday that any deal authorizing the extension of US military presence in Iraq beyond the December 2011 deadline would require the Iraqi parliament to give staying American soldiers legal immunity, Reuters reported.
"That kind of agreement, which would include privileges and immunities for American men and women in uniform, will need to go through the (parliament)," Admiral Mullen said.
He added that Iraqi officials should also clarify whether they want some American troops to stay on in the first place.
Iraq's political groups were scheduled on Tuesday to discuss the issue of an extended US military presence, but the government has not yet commented on Mullen's remarks.
However, Iraqi authorities, including Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, have previously indicated they prefer civilian trainers rather than military forces, dismissing the idea of legal immunity for American soldiers.
Mullen is in Baghdad to pressure the government officials to make a decision on the status of American forces in Iraq.
"I believe they also understand that time is quickly running out for us to be able to consider any other course," he said, adding, "My government has made it clear that we would entertain a request for some troops to stay."
About 47,000 US soldiers currently stationed across Iraq must all leave at the end of the year based on an agreement signed between Washington and Baghdad in 2008.