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907Iraqi PM: Troops Can Withdraw From Some Cities

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  • Greg Cannon
    Jul 12 8:29 AM
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      http://www.guardian.co.uk/worldlatest/story/0,1280,-5135495,00.html

      Iraq: Troops Can Withdraw From Some Cities

      Tuesday July 12, 2005 3:01 PM

      By ROBERT H. REID

      Associated Press Writer

      BAGHDAD, Iraq (AP) - Iraq's prime minister said
      Tuesday that U.S. and other foreign troops could begin
      handing over security to Iraqis in selected cities,
      although he opposes setting a timetable for the
      complete withdrawal of multinational forces.

      Underscoring security concerns, a car bomb killed at
      least three people and wounded 15 Tuesday in the
      ethnically tense northern oil city of Kirkuk, police
      said. An American soldier died of injuries suffered in
      a land mine explosion south of the capital, the U.S.
      command said.

      Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari spoke to reporters
      alongside Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick,
      who arrived Tuesday from Jordan, where he and Iraqi
      officials signed four economic agreements.

      Al-Jaafari said he opposed such a timetable ``when we
      are not ready'' to assume responsibility for defending
      the country against the insurgents. However,
      al-Jaafari added that security in many of Iraq's 18
      provinces has improved so that Iraqi forces could
      assume the burden of maintaining order in cities
      there.

      ``We can begin with the process of withdrawing
      multinational forces from these cities to outside the
      city as a first step that encourages setting a
      timetable for the withdrawal process,'' al-Jaafari
      said. ``We don't want to be surprised by a decision to
      withdraw at a time when we are not ready.''

      He didn't specify which cities where he felt the
      redeployment could occur.

      Zoellick's visit to Iraq had not been announced
      publicly. After meeting with al-Jaafari and others,
      Zoellick traveled to Hillah, about 60 miles south of
      Baghdad, where he met with Polish and other
      multinational troops.

      The Defense Department wants to pull some of its
      135,000 troops out of Iraq in 2006, partly because the
      mission is stretching the Army and Marine Corps
      perilously thin as casualties mount. U.S. commanders
      believe the presence of a large U.S. force is
      generating tacit support for anti-American violence.

      However, wide areas of northern and southern Iraq are
      largely unaffected by the insurgency, which is
      concentrated in Baghdad and the Sunni Arab heartland
      of central Iraq.

      Last weekend, The Mail on Sunday newspaper of London
      published a leaked British government memorandum
      showing that Britain is considering scaling back its
      troop presence from 8,500 to 3,000 by the middle of
      next year, saving an estimated $1 billion annually.

      The memo, marked ``Secret - U.K. Eyes Only,'' and
      signed by Britain's Defense Secretary John Reid, spoke
      of a ``strong U.S. military desire for significant
      force reductions.''

      ``Emerging U.S. plans assume that 14 out of 18
      provinces could be handed over to Iraqi control by
      early 2006,'' which would see the multinational force
      cut from 176,000 to 66,000.

      On Monday, British officials confirmed the
      authenticity of the document. Prime Minister Tony
      Blair's official spokesman, who speaks on customary
      condition of anonymity, said the memo merely confirms
      the government's long-standing plan to train Iraqi
      forces and gradually hand over security
      responsibility.

      In Kirkuk, a car bomb went off in an industrial
      district as pedestrians were passing by, police Capt.
      Farhad Talabani said. Police rushing to the scene of
      the blast came under fire and three were wounded, one
      critically, police Col. Ahmed Hamawandi said.

      Police said the bombing did not appear to have been a
      suicide attack, and no group claimed responsibility.

      Kirkuk, 180 miles north of Baghdad, is located in one
      of the richest oil fields in the Middle East and is
      home to Arab, Kurdish and Turkomen communities, each
      vying for power there.

      Iraqi troops, meanwhile, detonated about three tons of
      explosives found near oil fields in southern Iraq, a
      military spokesman said. The explosives, including
      1,282 mines, 628 mortar rounds and 825 artillery
      shells, were discovered by Oil Protection Services who
      called the army to remove them, Capt. Firas al-Tamimi
      said.

      Al-Tamimi said the explosives were believed to have
      been planted by Saddam Hussein's forces after the 1990
      invasion of Kuwait - possibly to prevent the oil
      fields from falling to U.S.-led troops when they drove
      Iraqi troops from the emirate the following year..

      The U.S. military said an American soldier has died of
      injuries he sustained when his patrol struck a land
      mine south of Baghdad.

      The explosion occurred at around 9 a.m. Monday, the
      military said Tuesday. Three other soldiers were
      wounded in the attack near Mahmoudiya, which is about
      20 miles south of Baghdad.

      At least 1,756 members of the U.S. military have died
      since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003,
      according to an Associated Press count. At least 1,352
      died as a result of hostile action. The figures
      include five military civilians.

      In Baghdad, gunmen assassinated a police colonel, Amir
      Mirza, in a market in the city's Wahda district,
      police said. The gunmen escaped.

      Elsewhere, the country's largest Sunni political party
      condemned the deaths in police custody of up to 10
      Sunni Arabs detained last weekend. The Iraqi Islamic
      Party said the men suffocated after being locked in a
      van for 14 hours in 105-degree temperatures.

      In a statement Tuesday, the Iraqi Islamic Party
      denounced ``this savage crime'' and the ``barbaric way
      citizens are being treated'' in Iraq.

      ---

      Associated Press correspondents Frank Griffiths in
      Hillah and Bassem Mroue in Baghdad contributed to this
      report.