Iraq ready to handle its security: Panetta

Calling Iraq a sovereign nation, the US declared that the war-torn country is ready to handle its security.

Updated: Nov 15, 2011, 22:25 PM IST

Washington: Calling Iraq a sovereign nation
and emerging democracy, the US, which is set to withdraw its
remaining troops from there by year-end, today declared that
the war-torn country is ready to handle its security without a
significant American military footprint.

"Today... Iraq is governing itself ? as a sovereign
nation, as an emerging source of stability in a vital part of
the world, and as an emerging democracy capable of addressing
its own security needs," Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said
in his testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee at a
Congressional hearing on Iraq.

"For our part, the United States is ready to mark the
beginning of a new phase in our relationship with Iraq ? one
that is normal, similar to others in the region, and based on
mutual interests and mutual respect," he said.
As the US forces from Iraq are withdrawing as per
schedule, Panetta said going forward the US will pursue a
long-term training relationship through the Office of Security
Cooperation-Iraq, which will include a limited number of US
military personnel operating under its embassy and receiving
normal diplomatic protections.

"Through the US-Iraq Strategic Framework Agreement, we
will also have a platform for future cooperation in
counter-terrorism, naval and air defence and joint exercises,"
it said.

"I believe Iraq is ready to handle security without
a significant US military footprint," Panetta said.
Panetta said that since the Obama administration came
into office, the US has removed more than 100,000 of its
security personnel from Iraq, and the Iraqis long ago assumed
primary responsibility for internal security.

"At the same time, violence levels have remained steady
at their lowest levels since 2003. In January 2009, there were
over 140,000 US forces in Iraq conducting a combat mission,"
the Defence Secretary said.

"In the summer of 2009, we removed our troops from Iraq`s
cities. By the summer of 2010, we ended combat operations and
drew down to fewer than 50,000 forces; those remaining forces
will leave Iraq as planned by the end of the year," he said.

Again, as the Iraqis have assumed security control,
the level of violence has decreased significantly and stayed
at historic lows, he said. "The number of weekly security
incidents across Iraq has decreased from 1,500 in 2007 to
fewer than 100 in recent weeks."

Panetta said Iraq now faces three major threats of
extremism, conflict between political blocks and challenges in
the area of external defence.