LONDON (AFP) -The US-led military coalition in Iraq could begin handing over security responsibility to Iraqi forces within a year, even though the insurgency could go on for some time, British Defense Secretary John Reid said.
"The insurgency in Iraq may go on for some considerable time. But there is a second question and that is: Who will lead the security efforts against the insurgency?" Reid told BBC radio.
"And I think in a relatively short period of time we can start the process of that being led by the Iraqi security forces themselves," he said.
"So although (US Defense Secretary) Donald Rumsfeld may have said, correctly, that this may take years before it is finally completed, that did not imply that all that period will have to be led by the multi-national forces or the British forces," Reid said.
"And I personally think that within a year we could begin that transition to the Iraqi forces leading the effort themselves."
Reid said 12 to 14 of the 18 provinces in Iraq were relatively peaceful.
He renewed the government”s promise that British troops would not pull out of Iraq until the Iraqi government asked them to.
He said the coalition was involved in a "major struggle" but had made "huge progress" with elections held and a transitional assembly set up.
He said it was precisely because of that progress that insurgents were now stepping up their efforts.
"Precisely because that is getting better, the terrorists are getting more frantic, more furious and more fanatic. And the massacres and the murders that are taking place are precisely because they wish to make sure that the progress is stopped.
"That is the big strategic battle that is going on at the moment."