BAGHDAD (AFP) - The US military's top officer said on Friday that Baghdad must decide in the "coming weeks" if it needs American forces to stay in Iraq beyond a planned departure at the end of this year. Admiral Michael Mullen said that no request had been made by the government for any American troop presence here beyond 2011, and his remarks came after US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said on a visit two weeks ago that time was running out. "Should the Iraqi government desire to discuss the potential for some US troops to stay, I am certain my government will welcome that dialogue," Mullen said at a news conference at the US military's Victory Base Camp on Baghdad's outskirts. "But it needs to start soon, very soon, should there be any chance of avoiding irrevocable logistics and operational decisions we must make in the coming weeks." The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff added: "Time is running short for negotiations to occur." Mullen is the fourth top US official to visit Baghdad ahead of the upcoming end-of-year pullout, bearing the same message that Baghdad must make an urgent decision on troops. He follows on the heels of Gates, House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner and US army chief of staff General Martin Dempsey. But Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki told Mullen on Thursday the Iraqi army was up to the task of maintaining security, and Mullen himself told reporters there had not "been any requests from the Iraqi government for any residual US force presence here after this December." Maliki's remarks to Mullen reiterated those he made to Boehner, who was in Iraq last weekend. Despite those comments, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that US and Iraqi officials were interested in keeping 10,000 US troops in the country beyond the deadline, citing unnamed officials. Further complicating the potential for a longer-term US presence are remarks by anti-US radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr on April 9, when he warned that his supporters would resume armed opposition if American troops were to stay beyond the end of this year. "Sadr has been a significant complicating factor in Iraq for a long period of time," Mullen said at the news conference. "The extension of that statement is to essentially threaten violence in the future, and Iraq has seen more than its fair share of violence and death." He added: "A statement like that is irresponsible in terms of taking care of Iraqi citizens in the future." Fewer than 50,000 US troops are currently stationed in Iraq, down from a peak of nearly 170,000 following the US-led invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein in 2003. All of those troops must withdraw from the country by the end of the year, under the terms of a bilateral security pact. Gates said on April 8 that American forces were prepared to stay in any role beyond the scheduled pullout, but he too said time was running out for Baghdad to ask. "My basic message to them is (for us to) just be present in some areas where they still need help. We are open to that possibility," he said. "But they have to ask, and time is running out in Washington." A senior American military official also said last week that Iraqi leaders should not expect US forces to return to help in a crisis after they have pulled out.