(CNN) – Less than two weeks before the scheduled end of U.S. combat operations in Iraq, the top U.S. military commander in the country tells CNN that the United States could have a presence there well after 2011 - when all U.S. troops are set to leave Iraq.
Asked about a comment by an Iraqi military official who said American troops “’must stay until the Iraqi army is fully ready in 2020,”’ Gen. Ray Odierno says he could imagine a scenario where “we could be there beyond 2011.”
“Can you foresee a scenario like that, that there would be some U.S. military presence, albeit much smaller, at 2020?,” CNN Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley asks Odierno in an interview set to air Sunday on “State of the Union.”
“I think it depends on what kind of presence you're talking about,” Odierno says. “If the government of Iraq requests some technical assistance in fielding, systems that allow them to continue to protect themselves, some external threats. We could be here.
“I mean, you know, we have agreements like that in Saudi Arabia. We have agreements like that in Egypt. That continues to help them to develop their infrastructure and security architecture. And if that's what we're talking about, potentially, we could be there beyond 2011.”
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[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/images/08/21/art.2shotodierno0821.cnn.jpg caption="'I think they don't want to see Iraq turn into a strong democratic country,' Gen. Odierno says of Iran in an interview with CNN."](CNN) – The top U.S. military commander in Iraq says the Middle Eastern country is on its way to being ready for next year's planned withdrawal of remaining U.S. troops, but Gen. Ray Odierno is also sounding a cautionary note about the intentions of one of its key neighbors.
In an interview set to air Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union," Odierno gives his assessment of the readiness of Iraqi security forces and of the Iraqi people overall.
"My assessment today is … they will be [ready for next year's withdrawal]," Odierno says in the interview. "I think that they continue to grow. We continue to see development in planning, in their ability to conduct operations. We continue to see political development, economic development and all of these combined together will start to create an atmosphere that creates better security.
"And the Iraqi people are resilient. They want this. They want to have a democratic country. They want to be on their own. They want to move forward and be a contributor to stability in the Middle East."
In the same sit-down, Odierno says that neighboring Iran may not want Iraq to move in that direction.