‘Troop reduction US discretion’
* Iraqi President Talabani says we still need American forces to fight terrorism
* Invites foes to join political process
CAIRO: Declaring that Iraq will likely still need American troops to fight terrorism for two more years, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani was quoted Sunday as saying that it is up to the United States to decide when to leave the beleaguered country.
Talabani had said in an earlier interview that the United States could start withdrawing as many as 50,000 troops by the end of the year, raising eyebrows in Washington.
He clarified those comments in an interview with the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.
“What I have said is that the United State can start withdrawing tens of thousands of its forces next year, but it is up to the Unites States to decide,” Talabani said. “I am not the commander of the US forces.”
“We still need the American troops to stay for many reasons: to train our forces and to fight terrorism,” he told the paper in an interview from New York, where he is attending the UN General Assembly.
US President George W Bush has refused to set a deadline for withdrawal of US troops from Iraq,
Talabani said he hoped the Iraqi security forces would soon be up to the level of taking responsibility from the Americans.
“I believe that it is now time for the Iraqis to be in the forefront in fighting terrorism and the Americans will be in the rear to be recalled when needed,” he said.
Talabani’s comments came as Iraq prepares for a referendum next month on the country’s new constitution. Jordanian terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who leads a Sunni-dominated insurgency, has threatened to kill those taking part in the Oct 15 referendum. Sunnis, once the power brokers under Saddam Hussein’s regime, complain the draft charter heavily favours Iraq’s Shiite and Kurdish populations.
Talabani said he expected a large turnout, even from Sunnis.
However, Iraq’s president extended a hand to those opposed to his US-backed government, urging them to participate in the political process but insisting that they give up violence. President Jalal Talabani, however, stuck to his government’s position that there can be no compromise on the principles of federal democracy, which is enshrined in a constitutional draft that Iraqis will vote on next month.
“We will talk to all, but we will not sell out democracy to the few who threaten violence if their demands are not met,” he said Saturday in an address to the World Leaders Forum at Columbia University in New York.
“We will always seek compromises,” he said. “Those who want to come into the political process - and we want them in the political process - must choose between the bullets and the ballots.”
Talabani did not elaborate on whether he was referring to the political leaders of the Sunni Muslim minority community or the insurgents, including Muslim extremists who came from other countries to fight the US-led multinational force.
Talabani said that while he expects the draft constitution to be approved, the important part is participation of Iraqis in the vote.
“Popular participation will create a sense of ownership of the new Iraq,” he said.
Talabani took a tough line on insurgents, who have been regularly staging suicide attacks and detonating bombs in Baghdad and other cities. He said Al Qaeda and Saddam supporters want to create instability and civil strife in Iraq and he said the fight against them is not just Iraq’s but the rest of the world’s as well.
“We will never surrender to the terrorists who despise democracy and distort religion. Never,” he said.
In later comments to a student’s question, Talabani said the insurgents have waged a savage war in Iraq. “What do you want us to do, go kiss them?” ap