World Tribune.com

Iraqi leadership sees U.S. military exit in mid-2005

SPECIAL TO WORLD TRIBUNE.COM
Thursday, May 27, 2004

BAGHDAD The Iraqi Governing Council envisions the departure of the U.S.-led military coalition during 2005.

Iraqi officials said the assessment was based on talks between the IGC and United Nations special envoy for Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi. Brahimi has been meeting prominent Iraqis to form a new interim government in June.

The departure was expected to begin with members of the military coalition other than Britain and the United States. The officials said London and Washington would withdraw their troops in mid-2005.

Iraqi officials have been discussing the issue of a withdrawal of foreign troops with senior U.S. and British officials. In London, an Iraqi defense delegation held talks with British Defence Secretary Geoffrey Hoon, Middle East Newsline reported.

"In terms of time for the presence of the international forces to help us establish security and stability, I think it will be a question of months rather than years," Iraqi Defense Minister Ali Alawi said in London on May 25. "The multinational force, in as much as its presence is needed to maintain security, will need to be replaced by indigenous forces, by Iraqi forces."

The United States has stressed that foreign troops will remain in Iraq in wake of the transfer of sovereignty to a new Iraqi interim government on June 30. But the Bush administration has prepared for the withdrawal of troops from major Iraqi cities.

For his part, Alawi said his government's goal was to ensure that Iraqi forces replace the U.S.-led coalition within one year. He said Baghdad retains a large number of officers and soldiers from the military under the Saddam Hussein regime.

"The question now is training them and ensuring that they are properly equipped and they are properly commanded," Alawi said. "It [would] be very unusual, I believe, that we will not be able to install security in the country within the next year. Beyond that period, I think, the level of adequate security is going to be dependent at the rate at which we develop our own capabilities inside Iraq, and this is what we working on."

Iraqi officials said that over the next six months police and security forces would be equipped with advanced U.S. systems and receive additional training to battle Shi'ite and Sunni insurgents. They said the Iraqi forces would also be assisted by Shi'ite and Sunni militias whose leaders seek a stable Iraq.

For his part, Hoon stressed that the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair has not decided to increase its troop level in Iraq. The United States was said to have asked London for another 3,000 soldiers to help stabilize southern Iraq.

"The situation remains exactly as it was, and as I have set out on a number of occasions recently," Hoon said. "We keep the requirement for troop levels under constant review, we are in constant contact with our officer commanding on the ground in southern Iraq, and obviously in the light of his request, his judgement of the security situation, we will make appropriate decisions. But we have not taken any decisions at this stage to send extra troops to Iraq."


Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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