White House sticks to Iraq troop timetable after day on which 70 are killed

The White House said Monday there are no changes in the timetable for U.S. forces to leave Iraq on a day in which attacks killed more than 70 people in the country.

U.S. troops are scheduled to leave Iraq in December under the status of forces agreement between the two countries, though it is possible some forces could remain in Iraq if that country’s government requests them.

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“Obviously there have been attacks and we strongly condemn them,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said Monday on Air Force One.

Carney noted that the general trend in Iraq is decreasing violence, but signaled the Obama administration would consider keeping some forces in Iraq if that country’s government wanted U.S. soldiers to remain.

“It doesn’t change where we are in the process of drawing down our troops or change the fact that we are, as we have said, in discussions with the Iraqis,” Carney said of the latest violence. “And if they make some kind of request, we would consider it.”

While President Obama is focused on the economy during a three-day barnstorming trip through the Midwest on a presidential bus, foreign policy worries, mostly centered on the Middle East, are taking up his time.

The White House is reportedly considering asking Syrian President Assad to resign amid growing violence in that country, and U.S. forces continue to back-up NATO assaults on Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s regime in Libya.

Meanwhile, U.S. forces are slowly departing from both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Next year’s presidential election is expected to focus on the economy, but Monday’s violence in Iraq is a reminder of the unpredictability of the conflicts the U.S. is involved in across the region.

On Syria, Obama had phone conversations over the last several days with the leaders of Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom. He has also spoken with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Carney said the White House is looking “together with a broad array of international partners” to increase pressure on Assad.

He added that it is “becoming increasingly clear” that Gadhafi’s days are numbered as his “isolation ... grows more extreme.”

The violence in Iraq took place after the beginning of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which had ushered in a period of relative calm in the country in the past.