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Iraq welcomes US withdrawal plan

IRAQ is willing to have the United States withdraw all its troops and assume security for the country before the end of 2011, the departure date agreed to by former President George W. Bush, the spokesman for the Iraqi prime minister said.

Spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh made the comment on Tuesday, a day before President Barack Obama and his senior commanders were to meet in Washington to discuss the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Obama promised during the campaign to withdraw all US combat troops from Iraq within 16 months of taking office. The new president said in his inaugural address on Tuesday that he would "begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people."

The government-owned newspaper Al-Sabah reported yesterday that Iraqi authorities have drafted contingency plans in case Obama orders a "sudden" withdrawal of all forces and not just combat troops.

Al-Dabbagh said that Iraqis had been worried about a quick US departure. But with the emphasis on a responsible withdrawal, al-Dabbagh said the Iraqi government was willing for the US to leave "even before the end of 2011." The Bush administration agreed in a security agreement signed in November to remove all US troops by the end of 2011.

The chairman of parliament's defense committee Abbas al-Bayati told The Associated Press yesterday that the Iraqis hoped Obama would stick by the timeline in the agreement.

"Nevertheless, we already have a 'Plan B,' which is that we have the ability to deploy any needed troops to any hot area in Iraq," al-Bayati said. "We are capable of controlling the situation in the country and we believe we have passed the worst" despite a lack of air and artillery power.

The war has left many Iraqis ambivalent - anxious to see the Americans leave but fearful of the future if they depart too soon. Distrust of rival sectarian and ethnic groups still runs deep, along with doubts about Iraq's political leadership as violence continues.

Yesterday, the dean of the Sunni Islamic College in Baghdad escaped injury when a bomb exploded beneath a vehicle in his convoy as it traveled through northern Baghdad.

Three college guards were killed and seven people were wounded, the US military said.

The dean Ziyad al-Ani is also a senior member of Iraq's largest Sunni political party.

A party spokesman blamed the attack on militants trying to disrupt the January 31 provincial elections.


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