Prime Minister Nouri Maliki predicted Saturday that his government forces would be prepared to take over security functions if the American military withdrew from Iraq, expressing a confident attitude at a time of U.S. domestic pressure on the Bush administration for a troop withdrawal.
“We say in full confidence that we are able, God willing, to take the responsibility completely in running the security file if the international forces withdraw at any time they want,” he told a news conference in Baghdad.
His words stood in sharp contrast to those of Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, who told reporters last week that an early U.S. withdrawal could cause Iraq to splinter. Maliki has lobbied for greater control of Iraq’s security.
The prime minister defended his record after the Bush administration issued a report last week that concluded that Iraqi leaders had failed to make much headway in resolving the political issues that would lead to national reconciliation and an effective democracy.
The report said Iraq’s security forces were at times subject to political interference and infiltration by Shiite Muslim militias. On Friday, after a shootout that left six officers dead, American forces captured a police lieutenant accused of belonging to a militia.
Maliki, a Shiite, put on a brave face in the wake of the rising demand in the U.S. among Democratic and Republican legislators for withdrawal from Iraq.
He pleaded for time, pledging to achieve the passage of legislation that Washington has demanded as a condition of its continuing support, including an oil revenue sharing law, a revised constitution and the easing of government work restrictions for former supporters of President Saddam Hussein, who was captured, tried and executed after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
Maliki also said that Iraqi security forces could use more training from U.S.-led forces and needed more weaponry.
In violence Saturday, bomb blasts killed two U.S. soldiers in the Baghdad area. The deaths raised U.S. military fatalities in Iraq to 3,613 since the war began, according to the website icasualties.org which tracks deaths and injuries in the conflict.
In east Baghdad’s Shiite Ghadeer neighborhood, a sniper fired on civilians from a rooftop, killing two and wounding one, police said.
On Saturday morning, gunmen entered a house outside of Hillah, south of Baghdad, and killed nine family members, all of whom were Shiite, police said. A car bomb near the capital’s mostly Shiite district of Amil killed one person and wounded four.
Police escaped an ambush in the Sunni Muslim neighborhood of Adhamiya, where a house and corpse were rigged with explosives and detonated; no one was injured, an Interior Ministry source said. Police discovered 21 bodies around Baghdad, 17 of them on the city’s west side.
Times staff writers Saif Rasheed and Raheem Salman contributed to this report.