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Official: U.S. Could Still Work With Iraqi Forces After Withdrawal

Iraqi soldiers take up positions during a security operation in Basra on August 31.
Iraqi soldiers take up positions during a security operation in Basra on August 31.
BAGHDAD -- A U.S. official says the United States is prepared to continue helping Iraq build up its security capacity and train its forces beyond the date set for the departure of the remaining U.S. forces, if it receives such a request from Iraqi officials, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq (RFI) reports.

Aaron Snipe, the deputy spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, told RFI on September 17 that while the United States is firmly committed to withdrawing all its forces from Iraq by the end of 2011, the strategic partnership between the two countries under their framework agreement leaves the door open for the United States to continue to help Iraq improve its security capacity.

Snipe stressed that any decision in this regard has to be taken first and foremost by the Iraqi government.

He added that as Washington takes note of the lively debate on the U.S. forces' pullout timetable going on in the Iraqi media, within the Iraqi government, and among the public, the United States is keen to make it clear that this is a purely Iraqi affair and that it fully respects Iraq's sovereignty.

Ahmad al-Khafaji, Iraq's deputy interior minister, told RFI that the Iraqi government is well aware of the U.S. position while also pointing out that "everything is open for discussion."

Khafaji said that Islamic insurgent groups are suggesting Iraq will not be able to hold its own without U.S. forces, but seems to forget that Iraqi forces have practically been in charge of security since June 30, 2009, when U.S. forces withdrew from the country's cities.

Analyst Hashim Hassan, a journalism professor in Iraq, told RFI that the recent spike in violence in the country may be attributed to widespread corruption within and insurgent penetration of the security forces, incomplete capacity building, and prisons turning into "terror schools."

Hassan recalled that eight highly dangerous Al-Qaeda operatives recently escaped from prison with inside help, while others still in prison are directing attacks from their cells using mobile phones to which many prisoners have access to.