BAGHDAD (AP) – Iraq’s prime minister said Saturday that the country’s security forces have been tested and have shown they are ready to take over from the Americans.
Nouri al-Maliki also said President Barack Obama agreed in a phone call Friday about the need to provide Iraq with more military equipment and weapons to fight insurgents and foreign threats.
Obama declared Friday that he will end combat operations within 18 months but leave as many as 50,000 troops behind for an additional year and half of support and counterterrorism missions. He pledged to withdraw all U.S. forces by the end of 2011, in line with a security agreement that took effect Jan. 1. Al-Maliki said the U.S. mission in Iraq “will change completely” by the end of August 2010 and the Iraqis would be prepared.
“Iraqi security and military systems have proven, through tests, their abilities and capacities in establishing security across the provinces, which qualifies them to take over full security responsibilities from the American forces,” al-Maliki said in a statement issued by his office.
Iraqi lawmakers offered a mixed response.
Some followers of anti-U.S. Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr were upset that as many as 50,000 U.S. troops would remain in Iraq. “This matter will be a dangerous as the occupation and control of the Iraqi soil and skies and sovereignty will remain,” Sadrist lawmaker Nasser al-Issawi told AP Television News.
“We believe the withdrawal must come as a purely Iraqi decision and not be given by the White House as charity,” he added. “They have to withdraw immediately to achieve full sovereignty and this is the will of the Iraqi people who are fully aware and capable of taking over.”
Senior Sunni statesman Adnan Pachachi said his main concern was the need to make sure the Shiite-dominated Iraqi security forces can protect the entire country. “I think we will need United States assistance for the foreseeable future to help Iraq confront any external danger,” he said. “Within the next year or two, we should be able to organize nonsectarian security forces whose loyalty is entirely to the state.” His statement reflected the troubled history of the Iraqi security forces, which have been accused for many years of being infiltrated by Shiite militiamen and conducting or tolerating violence against Sunnis.
In his speech, Obama said one of the roles of the so-called transitional force after August 2010 would be to train, equip and advise Iraqi troops, “as long as they remain nonsectarian.”
U.S. troops expressed confidence in the progress made by their Iraqi partners.
“The Iraqi security forces made great gains,” said Sgt. 1st Class Jeremiah Glassford of Birmingham, Alabama, who said he also served in Iraq in 2004 and 2005. “I believe the Iraqi police and army have improved drastically over past few years,” he said, speaking in Baghdad. “I believe they are up to the task.”