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Page last updated at 14:05 GMT, Monday, 27 April 2009 15:05 UK

'No delay' in US withdrawal from Iraq

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Nouri Maliki: 'The withdrawal will not lead to a collapse in security'

By Jim Muir
BBC News, Baghdad

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has said the recent wave of attacks in the country were isolated incidents which did not threaten overall security improvement, and would not delay the withdrawal of American forces.

At least 150 people were killed in just two days of suicide bomb attacks at the end of last week.

But Mr Maliki, in an exclusive BBC interview, said his government at the moment had no intention of taking up an American offer to keep troops in some Iraqi cities beyond the end of June, when they are supposed to leave.

"Attacks like these are hard to control, because they rely on women and female suicide bombers," the prime minister said.

"It's not always possible to search all women, for cultural and social reasons.

"So it isn't a sign that security has been reversed, or that violence may escalate. We're sorry that innocent people are being targeted, but we're not alarmed at all."

Delay unecessary

Mr Maliki said the upsurge in violence had had no effect on the timetable for the withdrawal of US forces.

Aftermath of insurgent attack 20 April 2009
The US plans to pull its troops out of Iraq over the next two years

"No, no, it hasn't changed it at all," he said.

"As we agreed at the beginning when we signed the withdrawal agreement, these deadlines are final and absolute and not open to postponement.

"And there's no need for delay, because the kind of attacks we're seeing now, using mentally ill women, loading them up with explosives and having them blow themselves up - that will go on.

"So the presence of armed forces, with tanks and armoured vehicles inside the towns, is useless in this context.

"This is intelligence work, and our people are stronger than the Americans at that, because we're dealing with our own people.

"We are absolutely convinced that the withdrawal will not lead to a collapse of security. Our own forces are capable of protecting the security and political processes completely, as is already happening."

The top US commander in Iraq, Gen Raymond Odierno, has offered to keep US troops in some of the more troubled cities, such as Mosul and Baquba, if the Iraqi government asks.

But the prime minister said that his government currently had no intention of making any such request.

"The possibility is there. The American side is willing if the Iraqi government asks for it.

"But so far there is no thought or intention on the part of the government to ask for an extension of those forces. On the basis of a field assessment we don't need them, and there is no request."

Baathist infiltration

Mr Maliki said he believed the attacks were being carried out in co-ordination by al-Qaeda Islamist militants, and elements of Saddam Hussein's former ruling Baath Party.

This is intelligence work, and our people are stronger than the Americans at that, because we're dealing with our own people
Nouri al-Maliki

"They agreed that al-Qaeda would carry out the suicide attacks, while the Baathists would do the remote-control bombs," he said.

But he also blamed some of the recent violence on detainees who had been "hastily" released from US detention centres.

He said it had been agreed that there would be no more releases without proper scrutiny and guarantees that the prisoners would not engage in violence.

He said that al-Qaeda and Baathist elements had also infiltrated the Sunni militias, known variously as "Awakening Councils" (Sahwas) or Sons of Iraq, which had formerly been with the insurgency but later changed to the side of the government and the US forces.

"There's no doubt that Baathist or al-Qaeda elements inside the Sahwas have taken advantage of official cover and of the government's position of gratitude and appreciation towards the Sahwas, to carry out attacks," the prime minister said.

"But these penetrations didn't have any effect on the role played by the Sons of Iraq or the Sahwas, which played a big role in helping stabilise the situation.

"There's a commitment on the part of the government to honour them, to continue their wages and to merge them with society, the state bodies and the security apparatus."



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