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U S military denies Iraq withdrawal reports

Written by: Staff

BAGHDAD, Mar 5 (Reuters) The U S military denied British newspaper reports today that it planned to pull out of Iraq early next year, saying the stories, sourced to senior British defence officials, were ''completely false''.

The Sunday Telegraph and Sunday Mirror said a plan for US and British forces to pull out in spring 2007 followed an acceptance by the two governments that the presence of foreign troops in Iraq had become an obstacle to securing peace.

But a spokesman for the US military in Iraq reiterated previous statements by US and Iraqi officials that the withdrawal would begin only when Iraqi security forces were capable of guaranteeing security and there was no timetable.

''This news report on a withdrawal of forces within a set timeframe is completely false,'' Lieutenant Colonel Barry Johnson said of the stories, which quoted unnamed senior British defence ministry sources.

''As we've said over and over again, any withdrawal will be linked to the ability of the Iraqi security forces to maintain domestic order on behalf of a representative Iraqi government that respects the rights of all its citizens. This is an ongoing assessment and not linked to any timeframe,'' he said.

After nearly two weeks of sectarian bloodshed following the destruction of a Shi'ite shrine on February 22, there were few reports of violence around the capital today.

An incident near the German embassy was described by police as an accidental fire.

UNITY GOVERNMENT Political leaders were still waiting today for Iraq's Kurdish President Jalal Talabani to issue the decree to summon a first sitting of the parliament elected in December. Talabani promised yesterday the decree would be issued today.

Government officials have said parliament should meet by next Sunday, March 12. One parliamentarian, Mahmoud Othman, said the session could be convened on Thursday or Saturday.

Talabani yesterday added his voice to pressure from other leaders for Shi'ite Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari to step aside, saying his resignation would help persuade other parties to form a national unity government that could halt a slide toward civil war.


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