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Monday, November 24, 2008

Iraq Defense Ministry: U.S. pullout before 2012 would be 'unconsidered and sudden'

BAGHDAD — Iraq want the U.S. military to leave, but not just yet.

Officials said the Iraqi Defense Ministry has concluded that the U.S. military would be required until at least 2012 for both internal and external security and among other things to prevent piracy.

"The period of the timetabled withdrawal gives us enough time to complete our abilities — training, combat and technical — and secures us great support," Iraqi Defense Minister Abdul Khader Jassim said.

At a news conference on Nov. 23, Jassim warned of a U.S. military withdrawal before 2012, Middle East Newsline reported. He said the absence of a U.S. security umbrella would threaten Iraqi oil exports and encourage neighboring countries to dominate Baghdad.

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"If we get them out now in an unconsidered and sudden withdrawal, then what happened in the Gulf of Aden will happen in the Arabian Gulf too," Jassim said. "Pirates will start in these ports in a way you can't even imagine."

Jassim and other officials have been briefing parliament on the need to ratify the Status of Forces Agreement with the United States. The accord envisioned a U.S. military presence until at least the end of 2011.

By June 2009, U.S. troops were expected to withdraw from cities to military bases. The Iraq Army has more than 230,000 soldiers, and Jassim said a premature U.S. withdrawal could spark unrest throughout Iraq.

"I take into account all prospects, including expansion of attacks to the depth of the Iraqi territories," Jassim said.

The officials said the U.S. military would also help in training, air and naval missions as well as weapons procurement. Parliament was scheduled to vote on the accord by Nov. 27. Pro-Iranian members of the 275-seat parliament have sought to delay the vote.

Hours after Jassim's news conference, parliament, in a six-hour session, concluded the first reading of the U.S. security draft. Iraqi parliamentary speaker Mahmoud Mashhadani said the accord would be submitted for a vote once a consensus has been reached.

The defense minister warned that the government would declare a state of emergency if the agreement was not ratified. Jassim raised the prospect that the United States would unilaterally withdraw its 150,000 soldiers from Iraq.

"The failure to sign the pact will lead to options worse than the planned agreement, such as a possible surprise pullout of the forces," Jassim said. "In that case, the Defense Ministry would declare a state of emergency to keep the situation under control."

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