Iraq will need coalition forces after handover: Iraqi interim FM

Wext: Friday, 21.May. @ 00:00:00 CEST


21.05.2004 . LISBON (AFP) - Iraqi interim foreign minister Hoshyar Zebari stressed that it was essential for US-led coalition forces to remain in the country after the June 30 restoration of Iraqi sovereignty.

"I'd like to repeat here (a call for) the continuation of the presence of coalition forces. Iraq needs it more than anything else," said Zebari during a two-day visit to Portugal which has national guards in the country.

"We need these forces there until the new Iraq is ready to assume responsibility for security," he told a joint press conference with his Portuguese counterpart Teresa Gouveia.

( Foto : Hoshyar Zebari )

Zebari warned that any premature departure of US-led troops would endanger the country's unity and stability, raising the possibility of civil war.

He also stressed the need to end the occupation by legal means, and for the United Nations to return to Iraq to pave the way for elections in January next year.

After the transfer of sovereignty, the United States will continue to play a key role, he said, explaining that Washington had invested "blood, money, effort and prestige" in Iraq.

Zebari also played down the rift between the US-led coalition and Ahmed Chalabi, a top member of the Iraqi Governing Council, who has broken off relations with the coalition following a US-backed raid on his home.

And he welcomed the steps taken this week to charge the US soldiers responsible for abuses against Iraqi prisoners.

"It is the first time in years that people are brought to justice in Iraq for mistreating prisoners," he said.

Regarding the 128 Portuguese national guards, serving under British command in the southern city of Nasiriyah, Zebari said he hoped they would remain after June 30.

"Our expectation from the Portuguese contingent is (for them) to stay there for some time until we... are able to control the situation," he said.

Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Manuel Durao Barroso said last week that Lisbon would reevaluate the continuation of its contingent in Iraq after the planned handover of sovereignty.

Gouveia said that Zebari's visit would help Portugal reach a decision about the force's mission in Iraq after June 30.

Source: AFP

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