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Iraq’s Vice President says pullout of U.S. troops will ‘improve security’

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The year-end pullout of US forces will improve security in Iraq, Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi claimed Sunday, days after Iraqi leaders agreed to talk with Washington over a post-2011 training mission.

Hashemi, a Sunni Muslim and one of two vice presidents whose positions are largely ceremonial, said a continued American military presence in Iraq would be “a problem, not a solution.”

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He added that the US could provide training expertise for new defence equipment, but that other countries offered similar technology at lower prices.

“The withdrawal of American combat forces will lead to an improvement in the security situation in Iraq by calming the concerns of neighbouring countries that felt threatened,” Hashemi said in a statement released by his office.

He did not refer to any specific country, but neighbouring Iran exercises considerable influence in Iraq, and American officials have accused Tehran of backing Shiite militias they say have been responsible for attacks, particularly against US troops.

Iraqi leaders announced on August 3 that they would open negotiations with the United States over a military training mission beyond the end of the year, when the remaining 47,000 American soldiers in Iraq are due to withdraw under the terms of a 2008 security pact.

Both US and Iraqi officials concede, however, that a deal may not be completed. Unresolved issues remain over the size of the force, the duration of its stay, and whether its members would be immune from Iraqi prosecution.

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Hashemi said that while “Iraq needs the experience of countries that are equipping it,” the US was just one of the countries Baghdad should consider for weapons.

“I hope in the near future, Iraq will be open to Russia, southeast Asia and the European Union. There are many countries that have technology which is comparable to what is available in the US, and this technology competes with American technology at lower prices.”

US and Iraqi military officials assess Iraq’s security forces capable of maintaining internal security, but say the country is unequipped or trained to defend against external threats.

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