Maliki: Iraqi Security Forces Will Assume Control by End of 2007

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki announced on Wednesday that his security forces will assume control over all of Iraq by the end of 2007.

Mr Maliki made the declaration in a speech read out by Iraqi National Security Adviser Mowaffaq al-Rubaie in Amara, 225 miles south of Baghdad, during a ceremony in which Iraq officially took control of the southern Maysan province from British forces.

This is the fourth province over which Iraq has resumed control, following the handovers of Al-Muthanna, An-Najaf and Dhi Qar – overwhelmingly Shiite areas in southern Iraq which have seen less violence than more religiously mixed regions.

Next month, Iraq plans to take control of three provinces in the autonomous Kurdistan region in the north, which will be followed by Karbala and Wasit, located south-west and south-east of Baghdad, respectively.

Iraq has a total of 18 provinces, or governorates.

The announcement appears to be a response to the latest political move of anti-US Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who on Monday removed six ministers from Mr Maliki’s cabinet to protest the Iraqi government’s refusal to set timelines for US troop withdrawals.

Mr Sadr’s political bloc controls 32 lawmakers in Iraq’s 275-member parliament.

Mr Sadr also commands substantial popular support among the country’s Shiites, hundreds of thousands of whom marched in the streets of Najaf on April 9 at a rally organized by Mr Sadr to call for an end to the US occupation of Iraq.

“Some people have demanded a timetable to end the foreign presence in Iraq,” said Mr Maliki in the speech read out in Amara on Wednesday. “I tell them this is the demand of every patriotic person. We are working to create the objective circumstances for this withdrawal. These circumstances are to accomplish training and equipping Iraq’s security forces.”

Yet Mr Maliki’s announcement does suggest an implied timeline for US troop withdrawal, since there will be no need for occupying forces once the Iraqi government’s security forces have assumed control over all regions.

In the US, President Bush continues to resist calls for setting timelines for US troop withdrawals from Iraq, because this would “give our enemies the victory they desperately want”.

Congressional Democrats have attached timelines for withdrawing troops as a condition to approving further funding for the war.

Mr Bush is scheduled to meet with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) at the White House on Wednesday to discuss the war in Iraq, in particular the current bill that contains $96 million in funding provisions for the troops through September.

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