Foreign minister fears premature pullout

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Iraq’s foreign minister said he’s concerned that the United States may pull out of the country before the army and police are ready to take responsibility for the nation’s security.

Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday and will see National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley today to discuss a wide-ranging agenda that includes “the continued engagement” of the United States in Iraq.

Before traveling to Washington, the Iraqi minister urged the U.N. Security Council to extend the mandate of the U.S.-led multinational force, saying Iraqi troops and police cannot yet defend the country against an armed insurgency led by remnants of Saddam Hussein’s regime and foreign fighters.

Even though Mr. Zebari told the council in New York repeatedly that Iraq still can’t survive on its own, the foreign minister said Iraq isn’t certain that Washington will stay engaged.

“I am concerned,” Mr. Zebari said after the session. “I’m a realist, OK, and we’ve seen that before. We need to complete this mission with their help. We are getting very close. The riding is getting tougher.”

But he said, “We are confident that we will make it.”

A surge of violence after the announcement of an interim government in Iraq on April 28 continued yesterday when a mortar barrage killed three Iraqi children and their uncle outside their Baghdad home.

Insurgents also trained their guns again on Iraq’s fledgling security forces, killing two policemen in drive-by shootings in western Baghdad’s Amil district and the northern city of Samarra.

A total of 151 police officers were killed in May, compared with 86 in April, an Interior Ministry official said. At least 325 police officers were wounded in May, compared with 131 in April.

The Iraqi security forces are backed by a multinational force of about 138,000 U.S. troops and more than 22,000 soldiers from 27 other countries. The coalition forces have trained and equipped 165,000 Iraqi soldiers and police.

Mr. Zebari said he expected to talk with U.S. officials about the speed and training of Iraqi forces.

“It’s not the question of numbers, of charts,” he said, referring to the U.S. military’s presentations on their efforts to train Iraqis. “It’s really the quality of these forces. Is there leadership? Is there performance? Is there delegation of authority?

“Definitely, the new army, the new police, need better equipment — at least better weaponry than the insurgents or the terrorists, and we think they could provide that,” Mr. Zebari said of the United States.

Mr. Zebari said Iraq also wants to address the regional environment, which he described as “not comfortable.”

“The flow of terrorists, the lack of support, the lack of cooperation from our neighbors is not helpful. It’s galvanizing. It’s prolonging. It’s causing more suffering … to our people, to the multinational force, to our future,” he said.

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