LONDON, (Reuters) – Iraq would need far fewer U.S. troops if the United States gave Iraqi security forces sufficient weapons, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said in comments published on Thursday.
The Iraqi leader admitted mistakes had been made over the hanging of former president Saddam Hussein but denied it had been a revenge killing.
In an interview with Britain’s Times newspaper, Maliki was asked how long Iraq would require U.S. forces on the ground. “If we succeed in implementing the agreement between us to speed up the equipping and providing weapons to our military forces, I think that within three to six months our need for American troops will dramatically go down,” the prime minister said, speaking in Baghdad. “That is on condition that there are real, strong efforts to support our military forces and equipping and arming them.”
President George W. Bush announced plans last week to send about 21,500 extra U.S. troops to Iraq to stabilise Baghdad and Anbar province. That would bring American troop levels in Iraq to more than 150,000.
In an interview with Italy’s Corriere della Sera, Maliki criticised U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s comment that his government was living on borrowed time. “I would like to advise Condoleezza Rice to avoid declarations that could help only the terrorists,” he told the Italian newspaper.
As for last month’s execution of Saddam — whose death was filmed illicitly on cell phones and released over the Internet — Maliki acknowledged it had not gone smoothly. “Mistakes did happen during the execution. They were not intended. These mistakes did not come from officials but from minor people,” he said, according to an audio extract of the interview released on the Times Web site.
Maliki also attacked U.S. President George W. Bush for comments that Iraqi government had fumbled the hanging by making it look like a revenge killing. “It seems that Bush has given in to domestic pressures,” Maliki told Corriere. “Perhaps he has lost control of the situation.” The execution was not a revenge killing, he told the Times.
Maliki said: “I would like to correct President Bush that Saddam … was not subjected to any act of revenge, any physical attack, but it was a judicial process that ended with him executed … according to Iraqi law.”