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Iraqi diplomat urges coalition to resist calls to 'cut and run'

Barham Saleh cites a global "pessimistic tone."

LONDON -- Coalition troops must stay in Iraq and resist the temptation to "cut and run" in the face of hostile public opinion, an Iraqi government official said after meeting British leaders yesterday.

Iraqi forces will increasingly take over responsibility for the country's stability from coalition troops, said Deputy Prime Minister Barham Saleh, an influential Kurd with long ties to the United States and Britain.

He urged officials to ignore an increasingly pessimistic tone of the debate over Iraq's future.

"I do believe there is no option for the international community to cut and run," Saleh said after talks with Prime Minister Tony Blair. "We need to understand that there is a need of utmost urgency to deal with many of the problems of Iraq, but we must not give in to panic."

Saleh said he was concerned about what he described as the increasing acrimony in international debate over Iraq.

"There is too much of a pessimistic tone to this debate -- even I would say in certain circles a defeatist tone," he told the British Broadcasting Corp., before meeting with Blair.

He said Iraqi forces will be in control of seven or eight of Iraq's 18 provinces by the end of the year, but that the presence of coalition troops remains crucial as local police and military try to quell seemingly unabated bloodshed and take charge.

Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, who also held talks with Saleh, acknowledged that Iraq could eventually break down into multiple parts. The Iraqi people must decide whether the country should remain as a single state or divide along ethnic lines, she said.

"That is very much a matter for the Iraqis," Beckett said on BBC radio. "They have had enough of people from outside handing down arbitrary boundaries and arbitrary decisions."

Saleh's 30-minute meeting at Blair's office came after defense officials and a senior British minister claimed that Iraqi forces could be given complete authority over southern Iraq within 12 months.

Blair's office denied he had pressed Saleh to draw up an exit timetable for British troops, but acknowledged the talks were focused on ensuring the process of handing over control of provinces continues "as quickly as possible."

"We haven't set a deadline, we won't set a deadline, we won't set an arbitrary date," said Blair's official spokesman, who speaks only on condition of anonymity.

The spokesman said the talks had touched on topics including the Iraqi economy. "The prime minister reiterated again that we fully support the Iraqi government in trying to get to a situation where it can take control of its destiny," he said.

British defense officials have insisted they hope to hand over all security responsibilities in southern Iraq in 2007 .

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