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Iraq to delay pullout of US in some areas

Maliki wants troops to help secure regions

By Qassim Abdul-Zahra
Associated Press / March 16, 2009
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BAGHDAD - 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 the Americans leave, Iraq's prime minister said yesterday.

Nouri al-Maliki said in an interview with the Associated Press that he had told President Obama and other top US officials that any troop 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," 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 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 American troops from Iraq by the end of 2011.

Obama wants to withdraw all combat troops by September 2010, leaving behind a residual force of up to 50,000 soldiers to train Iraqi forces and go after Al Qaeda.

In Washington, a senior administration official said Obama "has talked with and consulted with the Iraqis" and has said that "obviously we want to sustain the security gains of the last year."

He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was referring to private conversations.

Maliki did not specify areas where the removal of US troops might be delayed. But those areas would probably 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. An Iraqi soldier was killed yesterday in a bombing in Mosul and a police lieutenant colonel was shot to death in another part of the city, police said.

An Iraqi woman was killed yesterday when she was caught in the crossfire during a US-Iraqi raid against insurgents west of Mosul, American and Iraqi officials said.

Also yesterday, a senior US officer said American troops will focus on attacking insurgent supply routes and rural hide-outs 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.

Rudesheim spoke a week after two suicide attacks killed more than 60 people in the Baghdad area, raising new concerns about the readiness of Iraqi forces to take over their own security.

"I want to leave it very clear that there's no cessation of combat operations" after June 30, Rudesheim told reporters in Baghdad's heavily guarded Green Zone.

He said US troops would continue combat in the cities after June 30 but they would be launched from bases outside town rather than from outposts that were established in urban neighborhoods as part of the 2007 troop surge.

He said the giant Camp Victory complex on the western outskirts of Baghdad will remain open, but the fate of US forces in the central Green Zone remains under discussion.

"We will not forsake the security that has been established by the Iraqi security forces and coalition forces," he said.

Rudesheim said US military transition teams that train Iraqi forces will remain at posts within the city.

US and Iraqi forces have also relied on Sunni volunteer fighters - many of them former insurgents - to maintain security in Baghdad and rural areas nearby. Last year, the Iraqi government took over responsibility for paying the fighters and said it would bring 20 percent of them into the army and police. The rest would get civilian jobs.

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