Al-Qaeda retains a significant presence in Iraq and Baghdad may ask for some American troops to stay on, CIA Director Leon Panetta told US lawmakers on Thursday.
Panetta has been nominated by President Barack Obama to take over from Robert Gates as Defence Secretary.
“I have to tell you there are 1,000 al-Qaida that are still in Iraq,” Panetta said. “It too continues to be a fragile situation. And I believe that we should take whatever steps are necessary to make sure that we protect whatever progress we’ve made there.
“It’s clear to me that Iraq is considering the possibility of making a request for some kind of (troop) presence to remain there.”
Panetta made his comments before the Senate Armed Forces Committee in his confirmation hearing.
He also said that in Afghanistan, America’s other major battlefield, the drawdown should be “modest”
Panetta told senators that he backed planned cuts of 400 billion dollars (275 billion euros) to military spending by 2023, saying “the days of unlimited defence budgets are over.”
Last year, the United States spent 700 billion dollars on defence, or 4.8 percent of its GDP, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.