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Last Updated: Monday, 24 July 2006, 14:30 GMT 15:30 UK
Iraqi PM eyes further withdrawals
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki
Nouri Maliki insists his country will not slide into civil war
Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has suggested Iraqi troops will soon take control over more areas of the country.

Before visiting the UK and US, Mr Maliki told the BBC that predictions foreign troops would be in Iraq for decades were wide of the mark.

But he admitted sectarian violence was still a major problem that Iraqis would have to confront together.

Mr Maliki met UK PM Tony Blair in London, and will be heading for the US for talks with President George W Bush.

The three leaders were expected to discuss plans to continue the handover of responsibility for security to Iraqi troops in the south of Iraq, and the recent security clampdown in Baghdad, after another day of deadly bombings and attacks by insurgents.

Speaking alongside Mr Maliki, Mr Blair said Iraq's government would have at its disposal "the capacity to defeat extremism".

On Sunday, more than 50 people were killed and 160 injured in car bombings in the capital and the northern city of Kirkuk.

A recent report by the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq estimated that 5,818 people were killed in violence in Iraq during May and June - an average of more than 100 civilians per day.

Security vision

But, speaking to the BBC's Today programme, Mr Maliki insisted his country would not slide into civil war.

There are certain aspects in our local forces that need development - when that happens foreign troops can start leaving
Nouri Maliki

"There is a sectarian issue, but the political leaders have succeeded and they are working on putting an end to the sectarian issue," he said.

"There are continuing efforts in that direction, the civil war will not happen to Iraq."

Mr Maliki said his government had a security vision that involved working with neighbouring countries, disarming militias, and dealing with religious extremists and groups loyal to the former Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein.

"We are confident that we will confront terrorism and the violence that is in Iraq," he said.

'Signs of victory'

When asked whether he thought Iraqis would lose faith in the political process if there was not an immediate reduction in the violence, Mr Maliki said he believed they would be patient.

"They are able to accommodate and persevere. There are signs of victory and Iraqis will still be patient and will stay with us until victory is achieved," he added.

Signs of victory have included, Mr Maliki explained, a decreased dependence on multinational troops in Iraq, as seen last month with the assumption of responsibility for security in Muthanna province by Iraqi troops.

"The Iraqi security forces are actually leading battles, and at the end of the year you will witness major progress in Iraqis being independent and not needing foreign troops," he said.

But Mr Maliki declined to say for definite when foreign troops would be able to complete their withdrawal from Iraq.

"I think in this visit we will discuss issues that will enable foreign troops to leave," he said.

"There are certain aspects in our local forces that need development. When that happens foreign troops can start leaving."

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