Iraq needs US troops for deterrence: minister
DUBAI (AFP) — Iraq's defence minister said on Saturday that his country needs US troops to protect its borders and also for "strategic deterrence."
"We need US troops... for the defence of the borders... I don't have anything I can use for strategic deterrence. I do not have intercepting aircraft," Abdel Qader Jassim Mohammed told AFP on the sidelines of a conference in the United Arab Emirates.
"My need for them (US troops) is pressing in this regard," Mohammed said.
But the Iraqi official, who was in Dubai to attend a conference on Iraqi defence and security, said that Iraqi troops always replace US forces when the security situation improves and the latter withdraw from a certain area.
"Whenever the security situation seriously improves we replace them. We have a plan for this year but I cannot disclose the timetable," he said.
"Anyway, the Americans themselves are not willing to abandon Iraq unless they are confident that we are capable. This is an agreement," Mohammed added.
A senior Pentagon official said earlier this week that the US "surge" is likely to end in July with more troops in Iraq than the 132,000 who were there before five extra combat brigades were sent in more than a year ago.
Lieutenant General Carter Ham said that support forces and trainers who went in with the surge will still be needed to back up Iraq's expanding security forces after the last of the extra combat brigades leaves.
"It's likely that the number will be a little bit larger than the 132,000 or so that was the number of personnel on the ground pre-surge," said Ham, the operations director of the Joint Staff.
Currently there are about 158,000 US troops in Iraq, down from a high of about 170,000 at the height of the surge.
The Iraqi defence minister told reporters in Dubai that the surge was "working very well."
"Results for 2007 prove that -- Baghdad is good now," he added.