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Iraq could take over its own security in 2 years-UK

Written by: Staff

LONDON, May 2 (Reuters) Iraqi forces could take control of the country's security in two years time, a senior British official said today, but foreign forces will probably need to stay longer to help with training.

Britain has about 8,000 soldiers in Iraq as part of an international force of around 150,000, the bulk of which are from the United States.

Both the United States and Britain have said they will gradually withdraw their troops as Iraqi forces build up the capability needed to secure the country which has been racked by violence since 2003's U.S.-led invasion.

''It is perfectly credible to think in a two-year timescale that we could get to a position where essentially the Iraqis are totally responsible for all the security in Iraq,'' said the senior official, who is familiar with the situation in Iraq.

He said it could take longer, or even happen more quickly, but he stressed that two years did not represent a timetable for the withdrawal of British troops.

''We will probably have people in a training capacity, mentoring, helping beyond that period,'' he said.

British officials have previously declined to give any date for withdrawing forces from Iraq.

He said Britain would finalise details of the conditions for a handover of Iraq's provinces with the new government once it is formed.

British forces are stationed mainly in southern Iraq.

''It is still possible to see that (handover) happening in a couple of provinces in Iraq by the summer,'' he said.

The southern Muthanna province looks set to be one of the first provinces to be handed over and Misan could follow soon after, he said.

The official also said it would take up to a decade to get rid of the Iraqi militia.

''It is a five to 10-year time frame before we get to the position where there are no armed groups (in Iraq),'' he said. He added that he did not believe civil war or the splitting of Iraq along sectarian lines was inevitable.

Reuters CH VV1941

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