ARBIL, Iraq - The president of north Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region called Sept. 6 for U.S. forces to stay beyond a 2011 deadline to avoid a civil war, accusing political leaders of hypocrisy on the issue.
"We think that the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq is still needed, and all the political blocs say this during bilateral meetings, but when they stand behind the microphone they say something else," Massud Barzani said during a meeting in Arbil with Kurdistan representatives based abroad.
"If U.S. forces withdraw, internal war might take place, and foreign intervention will increase, as will sectarian problems," he said.
"Iraq needs the presence of U.S. troops under any name, because the Iraqi security forces are not ready to protect the security of Iraq, the army is not ready to protect the borders of Iraq, and the Iraqi air force has nothing," he added.
Under the terms of a 2008 security pact between Baghdad and Washington, all U.S. troops must withdraw from Iraq by Dec. 31.
Iraqi leaders announced on Aug. 3 that they would open talks with the United States over a military training mission to last beyond 2011.
Some Iraqi politicians have said U.S. forces need to stay, including Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, who said in July that: "Is there a need for trainers and experts? The answer is 'yes.' " But most have been extremely reluctant to call for an extension of the American presence publicly, as such a move is highly unpopular here.
Anti-U.S. Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose now-disbanded Mahdi Army fought fierce battles with U.S. forces, has warned of "war" if American troops remain in Iraq.
Sadr's political bloc scored well in a general election last year and with six cabinet posts and 40 seats in parliament is a key partner in Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's national unity government.
A U.S. State Department spokeswoman said the American military's position was unchanged and troops would leave at the end of 2011 as planned, but it would listen if Baghdad sought a new agreement.
"We have heard many different views from individual Iraqi leaders, but they have a government, and we need to hear a united view from the government," spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
"Were the Iraqi government to come - to come forward and make a request for some continued security assistance, we would be prepared to look at it."