Panetta: The Iraqis ‘Are Able To Secure And Defend Themselves’

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta yesterday in Baghdad expressed his frustration with Iraqi officials who have yet to say whether they will ask American troops to stay in Iraq past the end of the year. “I’d like them to make a decision, you know: Do they want us to stay? Don’t they want us to stay? … But damn it, make a decision,” he said.

Top U.S. officials have suggested that the Iraqis need U.S. troops in Iraq past 2011 because they are not yet able to defend themselves. According to the AP, the top U.S. commander in Iraq Gen. Lloyd Austin said Iraq “is lacking in important security capabilities” and “gave the strong impression that he thinks Iraq needs a U.S. military presence beyond December.”

However, Panetta suggested just the opposite yesterday in an interview with NBC News:

PANETTA: Well, I think the time has come to make a decision. You know, obviously, there’s been a lot of sacrifices made by U.S. men and women here and there have been a lot of casualties, but I think we’ve also put this country on the right path towards the future.

They are, in fact, able to secure and defend themselves and they are governed, at this time. But if this is going to continue — continue on the right path — then I think that partnership has to continue. And one of the keys to that is making the tough decisions that you have to make when you govern a country. If they want our support in the future, then they’ve got to ask for it.

Watch the entire interview:

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Referring to the recent increase in attacks against Americans in Iraq, NBC’s Jim Miklaszewski told Panetta during the interview that some U.S. troops said that “they feel like their hands are somewhat tied” in retaliating when unilateral actions are restricted, and “they don’t feel the Iraqis have actually done enough, and in fact, are not willing to do enough” against insurgents attacking Americans.

If the Iraqis are capable of securing and defending themselves, as Panetta says they are, one wonders then why they aren’t doing more to rein in the attacks on U.S. troops or, indeed, why U.S. troops need to stay in Iraq past 2011.