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Page last updated at 07:10 GMT, Tuesday, 15 September 2009 08:10 UK

US warns against forgetting Iraq

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General Ray Odierno on the state of security in Iraq

The senior American commander in Iraq has told the BBC that he is concerned that the country will be forgotten, amid the current focus on Afghanistan.

Gen Ray Odierno said troop numbers in Iraq would stay at that level until after elections in January next year.

He suggested there was always a risk that the security situation in Iraq could deteriorate and said he wanted to finish what had been started.

The US has 130,000 troops in Iraq, almost twice the number in Afghanistan.

The US troop count is due to drop quickly to about 50,000 by this time next year.

The endemic corruption within the Iraqi system - not only the security forces, but the system - is still probably the biggest problem facing Iraq
Gen Ray Odierno

"We have spent a lot of money here. We've spent a lot of lives here, both the US and the UK. So we have an opportunity. It's important to see this through," Gen Odierno said.

"I concern myself that people don't forget about Iraq, and what we're trying to accomplish here, but I am confident in the leadership that I have - that they understand the importance of Iraq."

BBC Baghdad correspondent Andrew North says that Gen Odierno was choosing his words with care. But he was giving a clear message, that with the situation still fragile here, the US cannot leave Iraq early.

Gen Odierno said risks remained though Iraqis had rejected al-Qaeda, the militias and "ethno-sectarian violence".

"The problem is, there's still attacks on the civilians here in Iraq, there's attacks against the government of Iraq, all aimed at destabilising the government itself, and the political process."

The general said he was particularly concerned also about corruption.

"The endemic corruption within the Iraqi system - not only the security forces, but the system - is still probably the biggest problem facing Iraq.

"I think the ministry of defence and ministry of interior probably are taking more action than most other ministries right now, so I'm confident that they're on the right path."



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