Iraq’s Prime Minister calls for speedy withdrawal of U.S. forces

Iraq's prime minister called Wednesday for a speedy withdrawal of U.S. troops, and the top US commander in the country said he believed a "fairly substantial" pullout could take place next spring and summer.

Both men's hopes were, however, conditional on curbing the insurgency, which US military officials have said shows no signs of abating and which has claimed hundreds of lives in recent months.

Ibrahim Jaafari, the transitional prime minister appointed after January's elections, made the call for a quick withdrawal at a joint news conference with the visiting U.S. defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld.

Reuters quoted Mr Jaafari as saying it was the Iraqi people's "great desire" to see the coalition forces leave and the domestic security forces take more responsibility.

Mr Rumsfeld said no exact timetable had been set. "But we confirm, and we desire, speed in that regard," he said, speaking through a translator.

Earlier, the top American military commander in Iraq, General George Casey, told reporters at a briefing with Mr Rumsfeld that he believed a US troop withdrawal could begin by spring 2006. However, he said an expansion of the insurgency or political problems could hinder such a move.

The general made a similar prediction earlier this year but the insurgency worsened in April, when Mr Jaafari's government took power.

Mr Rumsfeld and Mr Jaafari said there must be a quickening of the pace of US training of Iraqi security forces, and proper coordination of any security transition with the US military and the Iraqi government.

"We do not want to be surprised by a withdrawal that is not in connection with our Iraqi timing," Mr Jaafari said, informs Guardian.

As Reuters reminds, U.S. President George W. Bush said in a primetime speech last month he would withdraw American forces as soon as Iraqis were prepared to take over responsibility for security. But he also said it would be dangerous to announce a timetable.

A British government memo leaked this month said Washington has a plan to cut the foreign presence in Iraq from more than 170,000 troops to just 66,000 by mid 2006.

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