Coalition Troops 'Must Quit Iraq In Months, Not Years': Iraq's Defence Minister -- Financial Times

By James Drummond in Baghdad and Jean Eaglesham in London
Published: May 26 2004 5:00 | Last Updated: May 26 2004 5:00

Iraq's defence minister said yesterday that he expected the US-led multinational force to remain in the country for less than a year, as the Governing Council insisted the next caretaker government should have the right to ask foreign troops to leave.

As Iraqis pondered the impact of the draft United Nations resolution put forward on Monday by the US and the UK, Ali Allawi, the defence minister, said in London that coalition troops would remain in Iraq for "months rather than years".

Iraq was not "starting from scratch" in building its own force because lots of soldiers were available from the old Iraqi army, Mr Allawi said.

He insisted the multinational force "will need to be replaced by an indigenous force, an Iraqi force, in the course of a year".

Mr Allawi's confidence that non-Iraqi troops would be gone within a year is not shared by Washington or London. Indeed, Mr Allawi may well not remain defence minister after a new interim government takes over on June 30. But the US and UK are keen to support Iraqi assertions that Iraq will be granted real sovereignty on June 30.

Such claims were reinforced in Baghdad yesterday by Samir Sumaidai, the interior minister. He told a press conference he thought the country would be "turning the corner fairly soon, in the next two to three months", in delivering security.

Iraqi officials have been eager to have an input into the UN resolution. But serious consultations with Iraqis will take place only after Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN envoy, selects the caretaker government. Mr Brahimi, now in Baghdad, is due to name a president, a prime minister, two vice-presidents and 26 ministers soon, possibly as early as next week. They would stay in office until elections expected by January 2005.

Hamed al-Bayati, deputy foreign minister, said Iraqis considered full sovereignty to mean that big military operations by the multinational force would need the consent of the new Iraqi government - a suggestion backed yesterday by Tony Blair, UK prime minister.

Sheikh Ghazi al-Yawar, head of the US-appointed Governing Council, welcomed the draft resolution but suggested Iraqis should not face international supervision of a development fund in which oil revenues are deposited.

Kurdish officials expressed disappointment there was no mention in the resolution of the interim constitution, which provides guarantees for their community.