Iranian arms allegedly used against U.S. troops

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Asked later to explain that remark, he said he was not talking about the rationale for the U.S. invasion of Iraq but instead the need to go after al Qaeda in Iraq once it developed a lethal presence in the country following the invasion. He has said there are about 1,000 al Qaeda fighters in Iraq. That compares with an estimated 50 to 100 in Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden’s group was sheltered by the Taliban until the U.S. invaded Afghanistan.

Mr. Panetta also will huddle with the top U.S. military and diplomatic representatives in Baghdad before meeting with Iraqi leaders to discuss the possibility of keeping some U.S. troops in Iraq beyond 2011. He also will press Iraq for stronger action to stop stepped-up attacks on U.S. forces.

Mr. Panetta was meeting separately with Gen. Austin and with Ambassador James Jeffrey.

Later, he was to talk with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and President Jalal Talabani.

The Obama administration believes Iraq needs a slimmed-down U.S. military presence beyond 2011, when virtually all U.S. troops are scheduled to depart. Many Iraqi leaders agree, but they’ve been unwilling to make a formal request.

There are now 46,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.

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