Iraqi forces ready to replace UK troops

Iraqi forces will probably be ready to replace British troops in one year and allow the British to return to home, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said in an interview to be broadcast on Sunday. “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, according to excerpts from ITV1 television.

Some 8,000 British troops based in the southern city of Basra have been in Iraq since the US-led invasion in March 2003 that toppled Saddam Hussein.

Asked whether his 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 the troops (to) remain (forever) in the country,” said the Kurdish president.

General Sir Mike Jackson, the chief of general staff, speaking on BBC television about Talabani’s remarks, said, “we most certainly could leave” within one year, but “it’s a question of achieving the right conditions.”

The US-led multinational forces are trying to ensure the right conditions for a transformation to democratic rule in Iraq, trying to strike a balance among the Sunni Muslim minority who ruled under Saddam Hussein, the Kurds and the Shia Muslim majority, who dominate in the south. Despite his prediction, Talabani also urged caution about how a troop withdrawal was conducted.

“British people have full right to ask this, their sons coming back home, especially if they finished their main job, which was the ending of dictatorship,” he said.

But he warned that immediate withdrawal would be a “catastrophe”, adding: “It 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 co-ordination 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 December 15, but denied that insurgents would have an impact on the result. “They will try by all means, but I don’t think they will affect it,” he said.

“I think they will fail, because the Iraqi people are now determined to participate in election. Even our Sunni Arab brothers are participating actively - they have many lists for election and they want to be represented in the next parliament”, reports I.L.

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