By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service
June 3, 2007 – Iraqi President Jalal Talabani apologized for the deaths of American troops in his country and vowed that his government would make sufficient progress by September to convince America that U.S. troops should stay in the region. In an interview aired today on ABC's "This Week with George Stephanopoulos," Talabani said his government is committed to meeting U.S.-emplaced benchmarks for his country.
"We are committed to doing something tangible within the next weeks and months," he said.
"I think (U.S. congressmen) are right to worry, but withdrawing forces without achieving success would be ... against the national interest of the United States and the Iraqi people," Talabani said.
Still, Talabani said, most of the work the Iraqi government needs to finish will not be in place before the end of the year. He added that U.S. troops are needed in the region through 2008 to finish training the Iraqi army and police forces.
In fact, Talabani indicated the Iraqi desire for a long-term, but not permanent, presence of U.S. troops there. "The majority of the political forces who are represented in parliament ... are for having American forces stay," he said.
Talabani said U.S. troops may be needed long-term in specific parts of Iraq "to protect the sovereignty from outside interference."
Iraqi army and police will be ready to protect it's the country's government and provide stability in the region by the end of 2008, Talabani said. Any sooner would be "unrealistic," he added.
"To build an army after the collapse of a regime is not so easy," he said.
Citing progress in Iraq, Talabani called Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki a "straight man" capable of taking on the militias in the region.
He also discounted the regional impact of the return of radical Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who recently ended four months of self-imposed exile in Iran and returned to Iraq. Sadr has repeatedly condemned the U.S.-led occupation in the region.
Talabani called Sadr "a religion man" who is "trying to turn his group into a political party."
"But there are people in his army that are not even loyal to him," Talabani said. He noted that Sadr has lost control of some of his militias.
Talabani also discounted recent polls that Stephanopoulos said show that the majority of Iraqi people want U.S. troops out of the country.
"Everyone in Iraq knows that ... the United States saved the Iraqi people," Talabani said. "The majority of (Iraqi) people are for having the American Army.
"We are grateful; we are thankful to the great and glorious American people who liberated us," Talabani said. "I am sorry for the blood of American soldiers shed there. I present my condolences to their families."
He said his government will show the American people "that their sacrifices were not in vain."
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