Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Iraq ready to replace US troops in Baghdad

08/10/2008 13:38

Iraq said on Wednesday it was ready to take over security responsibilities from US security forces in Baghdad as both countries say they are nearing a deal on a contested military pact.

Interior ministry spokesman Major General Abdel Karim Khalaf said Iraqi police are capable of handling security duties across the capital, a responsibility now held by US troops.

"We have the ability to take over the internal security responsibility in Baghdad if American forces pull out of the city," he said in a statement. "The interior ministry is able to take responsibility for protecting Baghdad."

His remarks came a day after Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Washington and Baghdad are now "very close" to an agreement on the presence of American troops in the country beyond this year.

"There have been new ideas and new language that could be acceptable, but no final decision has been made. This needs some bold political decisions now," Zebari said on Tuesday.

Zebari was speaking at a press conference with visiting US Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte shortly after two bombs went off just outside the Green Zone, leaving at least seven people, including an Iraqi soldier, injured.

At a press conference in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad commander General Jeffery Hammond, who commands 28,700 US-led foreign troops said the improvement in security in the city of six million was dramatic but dangers remained.

"Security has improved, let there be no doubt," said Hammond, noting that Baghdad is now averaging four attacks a day, which according to US statistics compares to about 200 last year and 800 in 2006.

"We have been successful in creating the conditions for sustainable security for the eventual transfer to Iraq security forces but let there be no doubt that challenges remain."

The interior ministry said there had been an increase in the number of car bombs and roadside blasts in Baghdad since the start of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan but said this did not mean a breakdown of security.

"An increase in car bomb attacks and IED (improvised explosive device) attacks, particularly since Ramadan (last month) does not mean that security forces failed," the statement said.

Khalaf said Iraqi security services lacked explosive detectors to prevent car bombs but otherwise had been effective in reducing the overall level of violence in the country, which is said to be at a four-year low.

The ministry "is seeking (financial help) with some provincial councils to import such devices and technologies to cover all areas of Baghdad and other provinces," he said.

The US military has handed over security responsibility in 11 of the 18 provinces in Iraq since June 2006. The process started with the Shiite southern province of Muthanna, which borders Saudi Arabia.

Much of Iraq's improved security has been credited to the recruitment of Sunni tribesmen and former rebels by the US military to fight against al-Qaeda.

Some 54,000 are deployed in Baghdad out of a force of 100,000 across the country.

Hammond highlighted the importance of the Iraqi government ensuring that the Sons of Iraq fighters, as the Americans refer to them, are properly integrated into the mainstream security forces in the city.

"The Iraqi government has committed to accepting responsibility for the Sons of Iraq. We are going to be there to assist the transfer. I'm confident this is going to go well," he said.

"We will not abandon the Sons of Iraq."

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