'The Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, has made a sudden visit to senior defence officials a day after the country's most senior soldier declared his forces would not be capable of securing Iraq's borders until 2020.
The visit seemed prompted by Lieutenant General Babakir Zebari's remarks yesterday, in which he repeated his claim that US forces would need to maintain a presence in Iraq beyond the end of 2011, the current deadline for their exit.
"If I were asked about the withdrawal, I would say to politicians: the US army must stay until the Iraqi army is fully ready in 2020," he said.
Iraq and the US are yet to structure an agreement spelling out future defence arrangements after the end of the mandated withdrawal but both sides have indicated that future bilateral ties could extend to border patrols as well as ongoing training and mentoring.
A senior US official told the Guardian this week that any future military presence here would be "in the tens, or low hundreds, but will be far short of an occupation force".
Support for an ongoing US presence also came last week from an unlikely quarter, Saddam Hussein's former deputy, Tariq Aziz, who told the Guardian that Barack Obama would be "leaving Iraq to the wolves" if he continued to withdraw troops.'