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U.S. might be asked to extend Iraq stay

BAGHDAD -- The Obama administration is still willing to keep thousands of American troops in Iraq next year if requested, despite a series of deadly attacks on soldiers by Shia militiamen, the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad said Saturday.

Ambassador James F. Jeffrey said no decision on the issue had been made by Washington. Baghdad's Shia-led government has not asked to extend the U.S. troop presence, though it is widely expected to do so.

"We're not going to be intimidated by people attacking us," Jeffrey told reporters.

While deeply concerned about the increase in violence against U.S. soldiers, he said, "there is not a rethinking of our goal, which is to maintain a security partnership with Iraq."

Jeffrey said that "there is no doubt in our minds . . . that if we weren't around they [the militants] wouldn't put down their weapons."

"If we weren't around they would go after somebody else. And we're target No. 1 right now but they'll find other targets," the ambassador said.

Fifteen U.S. soldiers died in Iraq in June, nearly all of them killed by Shia militiamen. It was the deadliest month for American troops in two years.

A security agreement between the two countries requires all 46,000 U.S. troops to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011. But Washington is weighing whether around 10,000 troops should stay, if asked, to help Iraq's shaky security and keep Iran from muscling in on the unstable nation. -- AP

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