TOKYO, (Reuters) – Iraq is confident its security forces can manage alone after U.S. soldiers pull out of towns and cities this month, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said on Friday.
Concerns have arisen about Iraqi security forces’ ability to combat increasing violence ahead of parliamentary elections due next January.
“The Iraqi government, about the security forces, are confident (they) are capable of taking over its full responsibility after the withdrawal of American forces” from cities, Zebari told a news conference on a visit to Tokyo. “We are confident about the ability of our security forces. They’ve become more mature, more efficient,” he said.
U.S. combat troops, who invaded Iraq in 2003, are scheduled to leave urban centres by June 30 and redeploy to bases outside to hand control back to Iraqi security forces, according to a security pact that took effect in January.
While violence has fallen in Iraq since peaking in 2006-07, insurgents still launch attacks. Earlier this month, a car bomb killed more than 30 in the south and the head of Iraq’s biggest Sunni Muslim parliament bloc was killed.
The Iraqi government has warned that attacks could intensify before the election. “These recent attacks do not indicate a trend,” Zebari said, adding that there are some 10 insurgent attacks a day in Iraq now, down from about 360 attacks in the past.
The U.S. military is due to leave the country by the end of 2011.
Zebari reiterated Iraq’s concern about instability in neighbouring Iran after disputed presidential elections, adding that the call for change is coming from within Iran and that Iraq respects the Iranian people’s will. He also played down the tension between Baghdad and the Kurdish authorities over oil resources and the future of the disputed city of Kirkuk, claimed by the Kurds as their ancestral capital, saying that “there is no breakdown” in ties between Baghdad and Kurdish authorities.
Zebari, in Japan on a six-day trip ending on Monday, will meet with Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso later on Friday to discuss Iraq’s security and business environment in the hope of attracting more Japanese investment.