Iraqi president: Troops needed for 1-2 years
By Jason Keyser - The Associated Press
Posted : Friday May 11, 2007 21:21:32 EDT

CAMBRIDGE, England — Iraq’s president, worried about growing opposition in Congress to funding for the war, said Friday he believes U.S. and British troops will need to stay in Iraq for one or two more years to help stem the bloodshed.

Jalal Talabani told students at the University of Cambridge that all of Iraq was safer because of Saddam Hussein’s ouster and that many people were living “normal” lives.

“I think within one or two years, we will be able to recruit our forces and prepare our armed forces and tell goodbye to our friends,” he said.

Talabani’s visit comes as the Baghdad government is growing concerned about rapidly deteriorating support for the war in the U.S. and Britain. The government has dispatched senior officials to Washington this week to warn U.S. lawmakers that pulling out troops would have disastrous consequences.

On Thursday, the House of Representatives passed a draft bill that would fund the war only through July. The bill is unlikely to survive in the Senate, but it indicates the war’s unpopularity among U.S. lawmakers and their frustration with the lack of progress in the Iraqi parliament.

“We are concerned,” Talabani said. “We hope that Congress will review this decision and help the American army to stay until the Iraqi army will be able to replace them and to protect the security of Iraq.”

He offered assurances that Iraq’s leaders were doing everything they could on the political front to pursue reconciliation among divided ethnic and religious factions.

But he gave no details on how, for example, minority Sunni Arabs would be given a greater voice in politics, a change that many hope would weaken support for the insurgency.

He also would not elaborate on another key American demand — to end delays in the passage of legislation outlining how oil revenues would be shared among Sunnis Arabs, Shiites and Kurds.

“We are planning to show some tangible achievements to the Congress that we are going forward for national reconciliation, for national unity, for fighting terrorism and achieving peace and security in our country,” Talabani said.

He also expressed support for British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s likely successor, Gordon Brown, who pledged Friday to learn from the mistakes of the Iraq war.

“I don’t know him personally,” Talabani said of Brown. “All those Iraqis who met him, including our excellent ambassador here, they are praising him and saying that he’s a very clever man, capable, smart.”