- The Washington Times - Friday, March 13, 2009

SYDNEY (AP) - Iraq will not be a staging ground or a way station for terrorists after combat troops from the U.S.-led coalition withdraw, the Iraqi prime minister said Friday, insisting the country is united against terrorism.

Nouri al-Maliki, who is on a four-day visit to Australia, said militias and sectarianism had no place in the new Iraq, where citizens for the first time have a constitution that protects their human rights and parliamentary elections in January were run on political platforms rather than ethnic or religious affiliations.

The U.S. military announced last Sunday that 12,000 American and 4,000 British troops will leave Iraq by September. That withdrawal is part of President Barack Obama’s plan to remove all combat troops by the end of August 2010, with the remaining forces leaving by the end of 2011. The 4,000 British troops due to leave are the last British soldiers in Iraq.

Addressing those who suggest the withdrawal will make Iraq susceptible to terrorism, al-Maliki responded: “I say no, it will not happen again, because the police and the army and the community in Iraq are all united to stop this and will not allow terrorism to come back again to Iraq.

“Iraq will neither be a venue for, or a passage to, other organizations, particularly terrorism,” he said in a speech at the Lowy Institute for International Policy in Sydney.

There are currently about 135,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, many of them staying in place for parliamentary elections at the end of this year.

But al-Maliki pointed to safe and successful provincial elections in January as proof the country has entered a unified new phase.

“We have sown the seeds for democracy and educated the community that the multiparty system is good for Iraqis,” the prime minister said. “We put the house in order and the new Iraq is now organized.”

Al-Maliki’s speech concentrated on how his government has tackled the problems inherited from 30 years of one-party dictatorship under Saddam Hussein. He said they have worked to repair relationships with other countries, take weapons back from militias, override racism and sectarianism, and address the needs of widows and orphans of years of war.

“It is a phase of reconstruction,” al-Maliki said, noting that investment in Iraq was a welcome new development that the government was encouraging.

Al-Maliki met earlier this week with Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and other government officials in the capital, Canberra.

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