WASHINGTON – With American troops facing continuing battles in Iraq, the Bush administration on Friday did little to play down remarks by U.S. civilian administrator L. Paul Bremer (search), who said the United States would withdraw after the June 30 handover if the Iraqi Governing Council requested.
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"We don't stay in countries where we're not wanted. So if the provisional government, the interim government were to ask us to leave, we would leave," Bremer told a delegation visiting Baghdad on Friday from Iraq's Diyala province.
Bremer added that he doesn't think that will happen in six weeks, when the United States is also expected to declare its occupation of the country over. There are 135,000 U.S. troops deployed in Iraq.
In Washington, Secretary of State Colin Powell (search), meeting with the foreign ministers of the G-8 countries, half of which are coalition members, reinforced the notion of a pullout upon request.
"Were this interim government to say to us, 'We really think we can handle this on our own, it would be better if you were to leave,' we would leave," Powell said.
G-8 (search) coalition partners the United Kingdom, Italy and Japan concurred that they would leave too.
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"(The) situation posed in your question I think is not likely. However, if it were to come about, then as the other ministers have said, we would go back to Japan if requested," said Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi (search).
"If we are not invited, we will not desire to remain against the will of a legitimate government," added Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini.
Diplomatic sources say Powell and Bremer's comments are part of an effort to build international support for a U.N. Security Council resolution endorsing the interim government by showing the sovereignty granted on June 30 is real.
One diplomatic source said that in light of the prisoner abuse scandal, the assurance of Iraqi sovereignty is as important to Europe as well as to the Arab world. Clearing the way for a successful transfer of power is essential to avoid a public relations nightmare, the source said.
Friday's comments by administration officials followed a heated exchange on Capitol Hill Thursday on the interim government's power over coalition forces. Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman (search) hesitated on his answer whether we will leave if asked, leading Rep. Gary Ackerman, D-N.Y., to barrage him with questions about a possible withdrawal.
Officials also have corrected an assertion by a Joint Chiefs of Staff member who said U.S. troops wouldn't leave before being asked by an elected government in Iraq, which won't be chosen until January 2005.
Diplomatic sources said the Iraqis who are likely to be part of the interim government know their country would be unmanageable if U.S. troops were to leave. The caretaker government is unlikely to take any action it can't undo, the sources said.
President Bush indicated as recently as Monday that he expects the United States to maintain military control in Iraq long after the June 30 transfer of power.
"The vital mission of our military in helping to provide security will continue on July 1 and beyond. Having brought freedom to Iraq, America will make sure that freedom succeeds in Iraq," the president said during a stopover at the Pentagon.
Iraq's own security forces are nowhere near ready to take over the job.
"I think almost all Iraqis recognized, as we discussed earlier, that there is a real need to reconstruct the Iraqi security forces and make them deal with the threat from the 'Saddamists' and the terrorists. And we will not be at that point by June 30, so it's a hypothetical question," Bremer said.
On Tuesday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (search) did suggest that Iraqi troops might be on their own sooner than they would like. He said Iraqi forces are being trained, and the process is similar to teaching a child to ride a bicycle.
"They might wobble and fall, in which case you pick them up, dust them off, put them back up. But if you don't take your finger off, you're going to end up with a 40-year-old that can't ride a bike," he said.
The threat that remains after a withdrawal is that radical elements will be left to operate in Iraq, posing a danger to the democracy coalition partners are trying to establish as well as to the United States if terrorists continue to run free.
Still, clashes continue to be directed at U.S. troops by militia members loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr (search). Heavy fighting continued in Najaf, where some of al-Sadr's followers are calling for an all out holy war. Clashes also continued between U.S. forces and Sadr's militia in Karbala. In the southern city of Basrah, a cleric loyal to Sadr called on men and women to volunteer for homicide attacks on coalition forces.
Throughout the fighting, the United States has been approaching countries that initially refused to contribute troops to send soldiers to protect United Nations personnel once they return to Iraq in greater numbers.
State Department officials have not revealed that any countries have rejected the request but France, Russia and Canada answered for themselves Friday at the G-8 press conference.
"I can say and will say again here that there will be no French troops in Iraq, not tomorrow, nor later," said French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier.
"We do not intend to supply troops for Iraq but we are fully committed to a substantial contribution to the reconstruction of Iraq. That is already taking place in the form of training of police, which is presently taking place in Amman," said Canadian Foreign Minister Bill Graham.
Fox News' Wendell Goler, Mike Emanuel and Teri Schultz contributed to this report.