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Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Sustained U.S. Presence Critical to Security, Iraqi Spokesman Says

By Tim Kilbride
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, May 15, 2007 – Despite a desire for U.S. forces to ultimately leave Iraq, Iraqi leaders recognize the need for international support until their military is capable of operating independently, the Iraqi government’s official spokesman said today.

“The fight is beyond the capacity of the Iraqi troops,” Ali Aldabbagh told “bloggers” and online journalists during a conference call today.

When members of Iraq’s national assembly state their opposition to the long-term presence of international forces, he said, they do so without specifying a particular time for their withdrawal. Any timetables they might prescribe, he noted, apply to the Iraqi security forces and development of their capabilities.

“We feel there should be a timetable for building national security forces in order to be in a position to exercise force alone,” he said. “We are working on a program.”

“Most of the political groups here agreed that a premature withdrawal for the (foreign) troops… in Iraq is not good for Iraq,” Aldabbagh continued, because it would leave “a power gap, a power vacuum” which could be “filled by any other, probably neighboring, country.” he said.

While some politicians “do ask about having a timetable” for U.S. forces, he explained, most find that a “timetable is not wise right now.”

“The threat here in Iraq is the threat of terrorist groups,” Aldabbagh said, stressing that his government requires assistance training and equipping the Iraqi security forces to meet and combat this threat.

“And the terrorists (are) not only targeting Iraq,” he pointed out. “They’re targeting all (of) the region, and beyond the region even.”

Withdrawing prematurely, Aldabbagh said, would expose the entire world to danger.

“It is an international community responsibility to (limit those terrorist) groups and to defeat them here in Iraq and help the Iraqi security forces in order to get rid of this double enemy,” the spokesman said.

“We do need a regional effort,” he added, but until that coalesces, he said, the presence of the U.S. military is crucial.

On the subject of regional cooperation, Aldabbagh said current efforts by the United States to engage Iran in talks on Iraq are a step in the right direction. Dialogue with Iran will benefit the United States, Iran, Iraq and the entire region, he said.

The history of conflict between the U.S. and Iran “makes Iran more powerful,” he noted. “(The) conflict policy with Iran, it didn’t get us any positive things. We have to try another way of dealing with Iran.”

Iraq must develop ties to a country with which it shares a border over 900 miles long, Aldabbagh said. “Do we need to have a good relation(ship) with Iran? Definitely, they are our neighbors.”

By the same token, he said, the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki must engage all of the country’s political factions, including that of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

“We have to (have) dialogue with everybody,” the spokesman said. “We need to accommodate everybody in Iraq in order to fix the problem.”

The prime minister’s domestic outreach efforts extend to al-Anbar province’s Sunni tribes, Aldabbagh said. The national government is actively working to support tribal security arrangements against terrorist activity in Anbar, he explained.

“We feel that we do need to support them,” Aldabbagh said. What the tribal forces are able to do to stabilize that region is “much more than our (national) security forces” could accomplish, he said.

In fact, Aldabbagh noted, the Anbar model could be applied to Diyala province.

“The people of Diyala themselves,” he said, “they will stand against those terrorist groups.”

While such indigenous security solutions are worked out, Aldabbagh reiterated, the sustained presence of international forces is crucial to limiting terrorist violence in Iraq.

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