Washington, Sep 12: The United States wants to ensure Iraq's territorial integrity, including from ''very troublesome neighbors'' like Iran, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said today.
Rice said in an interview on NBC's ''Today'' show that the situation has improved in Iraq under President George W Bush's strategy of temporarily building up troops to allow time for Iraqi lawmakers to achieve political reconciliation.
Bush's top military and civilian leaders in Iraq faced blistering criticism by lawmakers this week and growing questions about whether security gains were enough to keep US troops in the war zone.
Rice agreed that there was still work to be done but she said the American troop presence was important to secure not only Iraq but neighboring countries.
''The way ahead here is to solidify the gains that we have made and to begin to have American forces, in lower numbers, turn to other responsibilities which frankly, like a stable Iraq, are very key to our interests, including securing the territorial integrity of Iraq,'' Rice said.
''Iraq has very troublesome neighbors. Iran is a very troublesome neighbor,'' she said, noting that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said that if the United States leaves Iraq, Iran is prepared to fill the vacuum.
Rice said the United States needed Iraq and other allies in the region ''to resist both terrorism and Iranian aggression.'' Washington is leading international efforts to isolate Iran over its disputed nuclear program and accuses it of fomenting instability in Iraq.
''The war in Iraq, when we are successful there, will make a more stable Iraq and that will make a more stable West Asia,'' she said. ''Clearly a stable West Asia will make America safer.'' In testimony to Congress this week, Gen. David Petraeus outlined a plan to gradually pull out 30,000 troops and bring troop levels to between 100,000 and 130,000 by next summer.
Bush is expected to endorse Petraeus' recommendation for a troop drawdown when he gives a 20-minute speech on Iraq at 9 p.m. EDT tomorrow 0630 hrs IST on Friday. Bush is expected to emphasize that he is able to order troop cuts only because of the success achieved on the ground in Iraq.