Iraq lacking on border defence: Maliki

AFP , Tuesday 26 Apr 2011

Amidst speculation on US withdrawal from Iraq, PM Nuri al-Maliki says Iraqi forces need more training and financial support to protect borders

Iraq is lacking when it comes to protecting its borders with just months to go before US forces leave, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said on Tuesday, while insisting none of its neighbours would invade.

His remarks came days after he said Baghdad would not ask Washington to extend its troops' presence beyond a year-end deadline, with US officials pressing Iraq to decide in the coming weeks.

"In terms of the level of the external defence of Iraqi sovereignty, Iraq has a shortfall," Maliki told reporters at a news conference in Baghdad.

"These forces will not be complete in one or two years because they need a lot of money and training, especially in terms of air defence."

Maliki added: "But there is no danger for Iraq."

"No neighbour of Iraq wants to enter Iraq by force. So our sovereignty is protected, especially in light of the circumstances and changes in the region."

The premier noted that were any country to invade, Iraq had "the ability to defend our country. I do not think that Iraq's police and army are weak."

Several top US officials have visited Baghdad in the past month, including Defence Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen, to press Iraq to decide quickly whether it wanted any US troops to stay past a year-end withdrawal deadline.

There are currently around 50,000 American soldiers in Iraq.

Maliki said on Tuesday that any decision about an extended US presence would be made following talks with other domestic political leaders.

"The issue of whether we extend US forces or not, this issue will be discussed at a political level, and a unified decision will be taken."

He said he would hold talks with other Iraqi politicians after returning from a four-day trip to South Korea in early May, and pledged that any decision would give US forces "enough time" to plan.

In remarks released on Saturday, Maliki said Iraq would not ask US troops to stay, and alluded to political difficulties he would have in getting approval for an extended American presence.

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