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Bush, Maliki Pledge to Accelerate Training of Iraqi Security Forces


President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki are pledging to accelerate the training of Iraqi security forces so the Iraqi government can fight terrorists and provide stability for the country. Their remarks came as U.S. media reported a bipartisan panel on Iraq will recommend a gradual pullback of U.S. military forces from Iraq, but will stop short of recommending a timetable for their withdrawal. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel has more from Washington.

As they wrapped up their summit in Jordan, President Bush called Prime Minister Maliki a strong leader, saying the success of his government is crucial to Iraq's future.

Mr. Bush says they both agreed on the need to hasten the turnover of security responsibilities to Iraqi forces.

"We agreed on the importance of speeding up the training of Iraqi security forces. Our goal is to insure that the prime minister has more capable forces under his control so his government can fight the terrorists and the death squads and provide security and stability in his country," he said.

President Bush says the United States is not looking for what he called a "graceful exit" from the war in Iraq and says U.S. forces will remain in the country "until the job is complete" and as long as the government wants them there.

"I told the prime minister that our goal in Iraq is to strengthen his government and to support his efforts to build a free Iraq that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself and is an ally in the war against the terrorists," he said.

Mr. Maliki indicated that neighboring Iran and Syria can play a role in stabilizing Iraq, but he insisted no nation would be allowed to interfere with the country's domestic affairs.

"Our doors are open and our desire is strong that between us and our neighbors we will have strong relationships based on mutual respect and staying away from everybody's internal business. Iraq is for Iraqis and its borders will be sound and we will not allow anybody to violate these borders or interfere in our internal affairs," he said.

During their news conference, the two leaders did not discuss a timetable for the transfer of security responsibilities to Iraqi forces. However, in an interview with a U.S. television network (ABC), Mr. Maliki says his troops will be ready to take full control by June of next year.

The president and prime minister met for several hours Thursday, but three-way talks with Jordan's King Abdullah scheduled for Wednesday evening were abruptly cancelled.

That left Bush administration officials scrambling to deny the change was related to the publication of a previously classified White House memo raising concerns about the Iraqi prime minister's ability to stop sectarian violence.

The summit ended on the same day American media reported that a bi-partisan panel reviewing U.S. policy in Iraq would recommend a gradual pullback of U.S. military forces, but no specific timetable for the withdrawal.

News reports say the Iraq Study Group will recommend 15 combat brigades be redeployed beginning as early as next year, but will not specify if they should be pulled back to bases in Iraq, transferred to neighboring countries or brought home.

The panel will reportedly propose that U.S. soldiers in Iraq shift from active combat to operations supporting Iraqi security forces.

A senior military analyst with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Anthony Cordesman, says it will take years before the situation in Iraq is stable.

"Over time this is a country with major resources. It does have the infrastructure, the education and the institutions to recover. Political parties, if they are not dragged into an all-out civil war will gain experience, have agendas, have experienced political leaders. You may, in three to five years, see something you can define as success. But I think the point really is three to five years, not 18 to 24 months or four to six. To get to a good case, an almost good case, takes time, patience and resources," he said.

The Iraq Study Group is scheduled to present its report to Pesident Bush and the U.S. Congress Wednesday.

Speaking to reporters on Air Force One as the president flew back to the United States, National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley predicted Mr. Bush would begin making changes in Iraq policy in "weeks rather than months."