Iraqi PM insists nation’s security forces can defend it after US withdrawal

PRIME Minister Nuri al- Maliki said yesterday Iraq’s own soldiers and police were capable of defending a “sovereign and independent” country as American forces ended seven years of combat operations.

A major troop pullout over past months has left fewer than 50,000 US soldiers in Iraq, while a near simultaneous surge in car bombings and shootings, many targeting security forces, has seen hundreds of people killed.

In a television address, Maliki said he was confident the last American forces would leave the country as planned at the end of 2011, stressing the Iraqi military and police were firmly in charge.

Maliki, who is fighting to cling on to his job despite losing a closely fought March 7 election, declared his belief in soldiers and police who have nevertheless recently failed to prevent attacks that have killed scores.

“I reassure you that the Iraqi security forces are capable of taking full responsibility,” he said. “Unfortunately we are facing a campaign of doubt.”

US President Barack Obama was to mark the symbolic end of the US combat role in a keynote speech from the Oval Office at 1am this morning, after visiting a base in Texas to meet returned Iraq veterans.

He was also expected to speak by telephone with former president George W Bush who, backed by key ally Britain, took the decision to invade Iraq in March 2003, ousting dictator Saddam Hussein within weeks.

On ABC television, Obama’s chief spokesman Robert Gibbs said the change of mission in Iraq provided Americans the chance to put behind them one of the most divisive periods in recent history.

“We can thank the men and women who made tremendous sacrifices. We can heal the wounds that were opened... about whether we should go to Iraq,” he said.

US Vice President Joe Biden landed in Baghdad on Monday night to mark the military’s change of focus from combat to training and advisory tasks.

He met President Jalal Talabani and Maliki yesterday.

More than 4,400 US troops have died in Iraq, and an estimated 100,000 civilians been killed, according to Iraq Body Count.

Iraqis seemed unconvinced that the end of US combat operations would see security improve.

“If the politicians continue fighting on the chairs, the situation will get worse,” said Salah Abu al-Qassim, 36, a trader in Shorja market in central Baghdad.

Meanwhile, British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg confirmed yesterday that: “By 2015 there will not be any British combat troops in Afghanistan.”

Visiting soldiers in Helmand province, Clegg also called on Taliban fighters to become part of the political future of Afghanistan.

Britain plans to withdraw its 10,000 soldiers from combat duty as part of a broader pullout of NATO coalition troops.


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