Sunday, July 15, 2007

Iraq PM says security forces can take over from U.S.

Iraq PM says security forces can take over from U.S.

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq will be ready to take over security from U.S. forces "any time" they decide to withdraw, although its police and army still need more training, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said in remarks over the weekend.

U.S. public opinion has turned firmly against the war and lawmakers voted last week to bring combat troops home soon.

Maliki told a news conference on Saturday he was serious about improving the quality of the country's police and army "so the forces can be better prepared ... when international forces decide to reduce their numbers or withdraw".

At that time, Iraq's forces would be up to the task.

"We say with full confidence we are able, God willing, to shoulder the complete responsibility in administering the security portfolio if the international forces withdrew, at any time they wish," he said.

Iraq has around 350,000 army and police, but U.S. commanders warn it will be months before they are ready to take over in the parts of the country where U.S. and Iraqi forces are currently fighting militants and insurgents.

In addition, Marine Corp General Peter Pace, chairman of the U.S. joint chiefs of staff, said on Friday that war fatigue had reduced the number of Iraqi army battalions that could operate independently of the U.S. to six from 10.

Unease in the United States has deepened with mounting U.S. casualties and Maliki's failure to make headway on security and political goals designed to dampen sectarian violence that has pushed the country to the brink of civil war.

The Democrat-controlled House of Representatives voted last week to bring combat troops home by April, although the move was largely symbolic, as President George W Bush has vetoed previous efforts to impose a timetable on the war.