US military may set up an additional headquarters in northern Iraq even after Washington scales back its forces by a September deadline, a top US general said on Tuesday.
The possible move reflects US concerns that Arab-Kurd tensions, provoked by disputes over land and oil rights, are the biggest threat to Iraq's long-term stability.
General David Petraeus, head of Central Command, told lawmakers that putting a headquarters in the country's volatile north was "something that we are looking at."
"There's a possibility that we may want to keep an additional brigade headquarters, as an example, but then slim out some of its organic forces and some of the other organic forces elsewhere," he told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
"And if indeed we think that there's a particularly fragile situation, say, in a certain area in the north, then we might do that," the general said.
He said military headquarters were an important platform for US engagement with Iraqis.
But Petraeus said the military was still on course to reduce the US force to 50,000 by the end of August, under a target set by President Barack Obama.
"We are on track to reduce that number to 50,000 by the end of August, at which time we will also complete a change in mission that marks the transition of our forces from a combat role to advising and assisting Iraqi Security Forces," Petraeus said.
A defense blog on the Foreign Policy website had reported that General Ray Odierno, the commander of US forces in Iraq, had told the White House he needed additional troops beyond the 50,000 limit to handle possible tensions in northern Iraq.