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Iraqi PM: Better-Equipped Iraqi Troops Could Mean Fewer Multi-National Forces

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki says if Washington and Baghdad can do a better job of equipping Iraqi troops, there will be less need for multi-national soldiers in his country in a few months. VOA's Jim Randle reports from Baghdad.

Nouri al-Maliki made the remarks in a wide-ranging interview with several journalists Wednesday. According to a Washington Post account of the conversation, Mr. al-Maliki said better-equipped Iraqi forces could mean the need for multi-national forces could be reduced "dramatically" in three to six months.

He said there would need to be a "strong effort" to bolster Iraq's military to make it work.

His comments were echoed Thursday by Iraqi government Spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh.

He said, "We expect that in 2007 Iraqis will have more control of the troops, and the decision will be Iraqi, and this will entitle [allow] to reduce the multi national force."

It is the farthest the prime minister has gone in establishing a possible schedule for reducing the number of U.S. forces. President Bush has proposed temporarily increasing U.S. forces in the country by more than 20,000.

The prime minister also bristled at criticism by President Bush of recent executions in Iraq and comments by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that his administration is on "borrowed time".

Mr. al-Maliki repeated a pledge to crack down on Sunni insurgents and Shi'ite militias, including the Mahdi Army of his ally, Moqtada al-Sadr. He also said his forces detained 400 militiamen this week.

Meanwhile, the terrorist violence that Iraqi and U.S. troops are trying to stop continued in Iraq.

This witness says a series of car bombs hit a market, killing and injuring people who were just trying to make a living. The attacks were part of a surge in violence over the past three days.