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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 January 2007, 11:55 GMT
Iraqi PM seeks US weapons boost
Iraqi soldier in central Baghdad
Mr Maliki wants "strong efforts" to support his troops
Iraq's need for US troops could fall in three to six months if the US supplied more weapons to the Iraqi security forces, PM Nouri Maliki has said.

Shortages of weapons and equipment had led to the insurgency being more prolonged and bloody, he told the UK's Times newspaper.

He urged the US to honour a deal to give Iraqi forces more equipment.

There has been concern that US military hardware could end up in the hands of militias and insurgents.

In the latest violence, several bombs have exploded in Baghdad, killing at least 17 people and injuring at least 47.

In the largest attack, 10 people were killed and 30 injured when three car bombs went off in quick succession in a wholesale vegetable market in the volatile south-western district of Dora.

If we succeed in implementing the agreement ... I think that within three to six months our need for American troops will dramatically go down
Nouri Maliki

Earlier a car bomb in Saadoun Street, one of the main thoroughfares in the capital, killed four police officers and injured 10 other people, according to police sources.

In a third attack, three people died and seven were injured in eastern Baghdad, near the Shia stronghold of Sadr City, police said.

Shia 'arrests'

Under a new strategy announced last week, US President George W Bush plans to send 21,500 additional troops to Iraq, the majority of them to Baghdad, in an attempt to improve security and end sectarian clashes.

But Mr Maliki said more equipment was what was really needed.

"If we succeed in implementing the agreement between us to speed up the equipping and providing weapons to our military forces, I think that within three to six months our need for American troops will dramatically go down," Mr Maliki told The Times.

"That is on condition that there are real, strong efforts to support our military forces and equipping and arming them."

Mr Maliki has said about 400 militiamen loyal to radical Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr have been arrested over the last few weeks.

Himself a Shia, Mr Maliki stands accused of being more eager to crack down on Sunni Arab militants than those from his own community.

But BBC Middle East analyst Roger Hardy says one problem is that the militia, known as the Mahdi Army and estimated to be 60,000 strong, is far from united.

It is too soon to tell whether this is just a short-term attempt by Mr Maliki's government to appease its critics, our analyst says, or whether it is going to take sustained action against Shia militias.

But Mr Maliki is clearly anxious to show he is actively taking steps to meet Mr Bush's targets, he adds.

'Moral boosts'

Mr Maliki's comments to the Times come at a time when Iraqi security is politically controversial in Washington.

On Wednesday, three US senators - two Democrats and a Republican - agreed on a resolution to oppose Mr Bush's plan.

The resolution, which is expected to pass, will be non-binding and the White House has said Mr Bush will proceed with his plan.

In the Times interview, Mr Maliki criticised US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who recently suggested his government was living on "borrowed time". Such comments could only give "moral boosts" to the insurgents, he said.




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