Iraqi president: British troops could leave Iraq by end of 2006

British troops could leave Iraq by the end of 2006, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani has predicted.

In a TV interview to be broadcast in Britain on Sunday, Talabani said no Iraqis wanted foreign troops to remain indefinitely in their country, adding that homegrown troops should be ready to take over from British forces in the southern provinces around Basra by the end of next year.

But he warned that an immediate withdrawal of U.S.-led forces would be a catastrophe for Iraq and would lead to civil war, with harmful consequences for the whole Middle East.

"We don't want British forces forever in Iraq. Within one year _ I think at the end of 2006 _ Iraqi troops will be ready to replace British forces in the south," Talabani said in the interview with Jonathan Dimbleby for Independent Television. The station released details from the interview on Saturday before it aired.

Pressed on whether this assessment amounted to a commitment, Talabani replied: "Well, I haven't been in negotiations, but in my opinion and according to my study of the situation, I can say that it is the just estimation of the situation ... There is not one Iraqi that wants that forever the troops remain in the country."

He said, however, that immediate withdrawal "would lead to a kind of civil war and ... we will lose what we have done for liberating Iraq from worst kind of dictatorship."

"Instead of having a democratic, stable Iraq, we will have a civil war in Iraq, we will have troubles in Iraq, (and they) will affect all the Middle East."

Talabani called for a gradual pullout, with close coordination between coalition nations and the Iraqi authorities.

He acknowledged that an upsurge of violence could be expected in the run-up to National Assembly elections, scheduled for Dec. 15, but denied that insurgents would be able to influence the result of the ballot.

"I think they will fail, because the Iraqi people are now determined to participate in election," Talabani said. "Even our Sunni Arab brothers are participating actively _ they have many lists for election, and they want to be represented in the next parliament."

Talabani denied there was any link between Britain's involvement in the war in Iraq and the July 7 terror attacks in London that killed 56 people, including the four suicide bombers.

"I cannot accept this," he said. "I think the terrorist activity ... is not depending on the war of Iraq", reported AP. P.T.

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