PARIS,(Reuters) – Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said on Thursday U.S. troops should remain in Iraq for up to three more years to enable the local authorities to develop their own security forces.
At the start of a week-long visit to France, Talabani rejected suggestions Iraq had descended into civil war and accused the media of focusing exclusively on negative stories. However, he said “international terrorists” were still concentrating all their efforts in Iraq which meant the country needed outside help to defeat them.
“We need time. Not 20 years, but time. I personally can say that two to three years will be enough to build up our forces and say to our American friends ‘Bye bye with thanks’,” Talabani told a conference organised by the IFRI think-tank.
Public pressure is building in both the United States and Britain to bring back troops from Iraq.
U.S. President George W. Bush’s Republicans face possible loss of control of Congress in Nov. 7 elections, with dismay over his Iraq policy a critical factor in voter intentions. However, Talabani gave an upbeat assessment of the situation in Iraq, saying life was relatively normal beyond Baghdad.
“There is no civil war. The media is focusing only on the negative side of Iraq. … We need to give the real picture. It’s not just car bombs. Visit Iraq from the north to the south. Never mind Baghdad,” he told reporters.
Very few French journalists venture into Iraq nowadays after three French reporters were kidnapped between 2004-2005 and held for months before eventually being allowed home.
The Iraqi Interior Ministry said more than 40 civilians died each day last month as a result of the political violence and the New York Times this week quoted the U.S. military as saying Iraq was descending into chaos.
Talabani angrily shrugged off the suggestion. “The Pentagon can say what it likes,” he said, cutting short the questioner.
Talabani is due to meet French President Jacques Chirac later on Thursday to ask for help with the rebuilding effort.
“I will ask (Chirac) to continue his support and extend the relation both politically and for trade. I will ask him to help us train some Iraqi police forces for use against terrorism,” the Iraqi leader said.
Chirac vehemently opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003 that toppled Saddam Hussein but France has since patched up relations with Washington and promised to help the new Iraqi government.
Talabani said Iraq was willing to strike new oil deals with France but repeated that it would not necessarily honour contracts forged by Saddam’s regime.
“Your oil companies can come to Iraq … Americans didn’t interfere (in our oil) and don’t have any right to interfere,” he said when asked if the United States would shut the door on French companies because of Chirac’s opposition to the war.