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Coalition Willing To Leave Iraq If Asked After Handover

15 May 2004 -- The United States, Britain, Italy, and Japan all say they would withdraw their troops from Iraq if asked to do so by the interim Iraqi government due to take power from U.S.-led forces on 30 June.

The announcements came on 14 May in Washington, during a meeting of the foreign ministers representing the Group of Eight major industrial countries.

Paul Bremer, the top U.S. administrator in Iraq, made a similar statement in Baghdad. But U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell expressed certainty that such a request will not be made.

"I have no doubt that the interim Iraqi government will welcome the continued presence and operation of coalition military forces, so I'm losing absolutely no sleep thinking that they might ask us to leave during this interim period while we're building up their forces," Powell said.

In Iraq yesterday, special U.N. envoy Lakhdar Brahimi continued efforts to develop a broadly acceptable Iraqi caretaker government to assume sovereignty by the deadline, which comes in less than seven weeks.

In the Shiite holy city of Najaf, a standoff continues between U.S. forces and fighters loyal to radical Shi'a cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Hospital officials say fierce fighting yesterday in central Al-Najaf resulted in the deaths of at least four Iraqis.