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Iraqi Oil Minister: Government Forces May Take Over Security by Late 2007


Iraq's oil minister says government forces could be ready to take over security responsibility from international forces by the end of next year.

Hussain al-Shahristani, who is making his first visit to Australia, told reporters in Canberra Thursday that it would not take years for foreign troops to withdraw from Iraq.

He said more than half of country is now under total control of Iraqi forces. He said for the rest of the country, the government is planning to have sufficient trained and equipped Iraqi forces by the end of 2007 or - perhaps 2008.

But Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer called the Iraqi official's timeframe "optimistic."

Downer cautioned against a premature withdrawal of international forces from Iraq, saying the insurgents are likely to call that a victory and use that argument to recruit more terrorists.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP.