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Iraq holds firm over date for US withdrawal

IRAQ will not extend the June 30 deadline for United States troops to withdraw from urban areas, despite concerns about a resurgence of violence in recent weeks, a spokesman said yesterday.

The government has insisted it is committed to the timeline laid out in a US-Iraqi security agreement that calls for American forces to pull back from urban areas by the summer and from the rest of the country by the end of 2011.

A series of high-profile bombings have cast doubt on the readiness of Iraqi forces to take over security responsibilities.

In particular, US commanders have pointed to the volatile northern city of Mosul as a possible exception to the withdrawal plans.

Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh, however, said the deadlines were "non-extendable."

"These dates cannot be extended and this is consistent with the transfer and handover of responsibility to Iraqi security forces," al-Dabbagh said.

In the latest violence, a car bomb exploded near the Oil Ministry in Baghdad yesterday, killing one policeman and wounding three others, according to Iraqi police and hospital officials.

North of the capital, a Sunni tribal group that turned against al-Qaida in Iraq postponed plans to disband after receiving reassurances that its leader would be released, the acting chief said.

The move could avert the latest showdown between Iraq's Shiite-dominated government and the Sunni groups that have accused it of unfairly targeting its members for past bloodshed.

Any step back by the Awakening Councils could leave areas more vulnerable to attacks from insurgents, who have sharply increased bombings in the past month.

The Awakening Councils, which were originally funded by the US military but are now the government's responsibility, are considered a key factor in security gains over the past two years.

But tensions have risen over arrests and allegations that the government has not come through with pledges for Sunni reconciliation and offers of official security posts to members of the groups.


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