Tue, Mar 17, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Some US soldiers to stay: Iraq

UNSTABLE AREAS: The Iraqi prime minister said he did not want US forces to leave areas that were not already safe, which is likely to include Mosul and Diyala Province

AP AND DPA , BAGHDAD and LONDON

US troops will not be removed from areas of Iraq that are not completely secure or where there is a high probability that attacks could resume after they leave, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said on Sunday.

In an interview, al-Maliki said he had told US President Barack Obama and other top US officials that any withdrawals “must be done with our approval” and in coordination with the Iraqi government.

“I do not want any withdrawals except in areas considered 100 percent secure and under control,” al-Maliki said during his flight from Australia to Baghdad at the end of a five-day visit.

“Any area where there is a likelihood of a resumption of attacks, withdrawals from there will be postponed,” he said.

The US-Iraq security pact that went into effect on Jan. 1 calls for US combat forces to leave the cities by the end of June in the first step of a plan to remove all US troops from Iraq by the end of 2011. Obama wants to withdraw all combat troops by September next year, leaving behind a residual force of up to 50,000 soldiers to train Iraqi forces and go after al-Qaeda.

Al-Maliki did not specify areas where the removal of US troops might be delayed. But those areas would likely include Mosul, the country’s third largest city, and Diyala Province northeast of Baghdad. Al-Qaeda and other Sunni extremist groups operate in both areas, despite repeated offensives by US and Iraqi forces.

Also Sunday, a senior US officer told reporters that US troops will focus on attacking insurgent supply routes and rural hideouts after combat troops withdraw from Baghdad at the end of June.

Brigadier General Frederick Rudesheim, a deputy commander of US forces in Baghdad, said the shift from the cities to large bases outside will help make the capital safer because US troops can go after militants at the source: the countryside where they plan their attacks and load up on guns and bombs.

Meanwhile, an opinion poll published yesterday shows that for the first time since the 2003 invasion, Iraqis were hopeful about the future and are increasingly preoccupied with conventional worries such as the economy and jobs. But it also showed that Iraqis remain unhappy about the role of foreign powers in their country, notably Iran, the US and Britain.

The survey was undertaken jointly by the BBC, ABC News and Japan’s NHK television last month. A total of 2,228 Iraqis were questioned across all 18 provinces. The margin of error is 2.5 per cent, the BBC said.

The survey is the sixth in a series of surveys since March 2004 and shows a marked overall improvement in perceptions, the BBC said. It showed striking shifts in opinion since the last poll, in March last year.

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