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Maliki Predicts Iraqis at Helm Within 18 Months

The new prime minister gives no timetable for a U.S. pullout. More than two dozen die in strife.

May 25, 2006|From the Associated Press

BAGHDAD — Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki said Wednesday that he believed his nation's forces were capable of taking over security within 18 months, but he did not mention any possible timetable for U.S.-led coalition forces to leave.

In Washington, the White House said it was premature to talk about withdrawals.

The killings of more than two dozen people around Iraq were a reminder of the lack of security.

The U.S. military said a soldier was killed in action. His patrol was attacked by gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades south of Balad, 50 miles north of Baghdad.

In Baghdad, 10 drive-by shootings killed 14 people. Gunmen killed an Iraqi soldier at a checkpoint north of the capital, officials said.

Gunmen killed Adel Issa, a member of Diyala's provincial council, and two bodyguards in northern Iraq. A university student was killed in Mosul, police said.

In Dayera, 35 miles south of Baghdad, police found the bodies of seven Iraqis who had been shot in the head, police said. Baghdad police found two bodies.

In assessing Iraq's ability to take over security, Maliki acknowledged in a written statement that security forces needed more recruits, training and equipment. The armed forces and police number about 254,000 and should reach about 273,000 by year's end.

Handing over security to Iraq does not necessarily mean significant numbers of U.S.-led troops will start returning home. Instead, plans call for them to remain on call at large bases.

The U.S. military said it was investigating allegations that Marines killed an Iraqi civilian west of Baghdad last month.

The statement did not say how many Marines were involved, but it said they included several from the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, based in the Fallouja area.

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