Tue, Oct 14, 2008 - Page 6 News List

UK soldiers can go now: Maliki

NO LONGER NEEDED The Iraqi leader also accused the British military of making a dangerous deal with militia leader Moqtada al-Sadr, which nearly created a crisis

AFP , LONDON

British troops are no longer necessary for the security of Iraq and should go home, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said in a newspaper interview published yesterday.

“We thank them for the role they have played, but I think that their stay is not necessary for maintaining security and control,” he told the Sunday Times. “There might be a need for their experience in training and some technological issues, but as a fighting force, I don’t think that is necessary.”

Maliki also criticized the decision by Britain earlier this year to move its troops from a palace in Basra, which came under British responsibility after the 2003 US-led invasion, to their base at the airport.

“At the time Basra was not under control of the local government, but in the hands of the gangs and militias … [British forces] stayed away from the confrontation, which gave the gangs and the militias the chance to control the city,” he said.

“The situation deteriorated so badly that corrupted youths were carrying swords and cutting the throats of women and children. The citizens of Basra called out for our help … and we moved to regain the city,” he said.

Asked by the newspaper whether he thought Britain’s move had been premature, he said: “Very.”

The prime minister also criticized Britain’s deal with Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army, Iraq’s largest Shiite militia, to stop mortar and rocket attacks.

“Of course we were not comfortable and we conveyed our discomfort and regarded it as the beginning of a disaster,” he said. “Had they told us that they wanted to do this, we would have consulted with them and come up with the best possible decision. But when they acted alone the problem happened.”

Maliki said crisis was averted by his decision to send thousands of Iraqi forces into the city.

However, he said coalition forces “did provide help and it was important” and said that despite the disagreements, “the Iraqi arena is open for British companies and British friendship.”

“Our relationship now is good and we are working to improve it further in other fields as we take over responsibility for security,” Maliki said.

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