BAGHDAD (AFP) – The withdrawal of US forces from Iraqi cities won’t affect security in the country, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki assured US House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi in Baghdad on Sunday.
“We don’t need big numbers of (US) military forces inside the cities after we get control of them,” Maliki said in a statement after meeting with Pelosi, who arrived in the Iraqi capital unannounced earlier in the day.
“The responsible withdrawal (of US troops) will not affect the security situation,” Maliki added.
The visit of Pelosi, known for her strong anti-war stance, comes as US troops prepare to withdraw from the country’s urban areas by June 30 amid a worrying recent spike in violence.
The withdrawal is part of a military accord signed between Baghdad and Washington in November that will also see US troops leave the country by end 2011, nearly nine years after former president George W. Bush ordered an invasion to topple Saddam Hussein.
Maliki said Iraq’s military efforts were now concentrated on improving the nation’s secret services.
He added that the US Congress should now try to develop bilateral relations in the context of the scientific and economic agreements previously signed between Baghdad and Washington.
“Under the stability we are seeking to develop our economy, especially the oil industry, after multinationals have already come to work and invest in the sector,” he said.
Pelosi for her part gave the assurance that Washington is sticking to it part of the agreement on troop withdrawals.
“I can’t speak to what the attitude is in Iraq but what I do know that this is the plan that has been agreed upon and we want to honour that,” the California Democrat said after meeting with parliament speaker Iyad al-Samarrai of the National Concord Front, Iraq’s largest Sunni Arab bloc.
“Our agenda included talking about the strategic framework agreement and how it needs to be discussed and strengthened and enforced,” Pelosi told a media conference after the meeting.
She added that the US was withdrawing its troops even though there may be continued violence in the country.
Pelosi said that increasing bi-lateral intelligence cooperation was also crucial as was tackling the rampant corruption that international surveys routinely say makes Iraq one of the world’s most corrupt countries.
“(We talked about) how we can forward in a way that diminishes corruption, builds a democracy, builds the army and the police in a way that enforces the law, and to do so in a way that has no preference for any religious sector in society.”
Pelosi, who previously visited Iraq in January 2007 and in May last year, when she held talks Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, was expected to later meet with US troops.
Her visit came as Baghdad has recently endured a series of deadly bombings targeting crowded civilian areas that made April the bloodiest month in Iraq since September, with 355 people killed.
Despite the violence, Iraq has insisted that it will stick to a deadline for American troops to withdraw from cities by June 30.
Washington’s top commander in the country General Ray Odierno has insisted the pullout is on track.
Pelosi has backed President Barack Obama’s plan to end US combat operations in Iraq by August 2010, but has at the same time faulted his plans to leave behind a residual force of up to 50,000 soldiers.
“The remaining missions given to our remaining forces must be clearly defined and narrowly focused so that the number of troops needed to perform them is as small as possible,” she said in February.
The US military currently has about 139,000 troops in Iraq.