AMMAN, Jordan – Iraq's Shiite vice president said Saturday his country fears a deterioration in security after U.S. troops withdraw, but that he is confident his nation's security forces are strong enough to respond to any increase in attacks.
"We're nervous about the United States leaving Iraq, but this is a challenge we have to take," Adil Abdul-Mahdi told The Associated Press at an international economic conference in Jordan sponsored by the Geneva-based World Economic Forum.
President Barack Obama has said he plans to end American combat operations in Iraq by Aug. 31, 2010, leaving a contingency force of up to 50,000 to train and advise the Iraqi security forces. The remainder of American troops are required under a U.S.-Iraqi security pact to leave by the end of 2011.
"We're confidant of our forces and I think we can win that challenge," said Abdul-Mahdi, one of Iraq's two vice presidents.
He stressed that U.S.-backed Iraqi forces have already taken control in many parts of the country where the security situation has improved because the Iraqis were well trained and equipped.
Despite the rising death toll from a recent increase in attacks, the Iraqi government has ruled out asking U.S. combat troops to remain in Iraqi cities after a June 30 deadline for pulling out of urban areas.
U.S. and Iraqi officials are gambling that Iraq's army and police are better prepared now to maintain security than they were three years ago, when a move by the U.S. military to scale down its presence in the cities was followed by a sharp rise in violence.
Abdul-Mahdi said the United States will meet the deadline for a full withdrawal at the end of 2011. But he added "there might be a request either by the American, or Iraqi sides for them to stay on beyond the deadline for training troops or for technical assistance."
"But there won't be any combat forces," he said.
Abdul-Mahdi was due to take part later Saturday in a panel discussion on Iraq after the U.S. troop withdrawal.
The three-day World Economic Forum meeting, which ends Sunday has focused on ways to restart Arab-Israeli peace talks and ease the impact of the global financial crisis on the Middle East. The event has brought together more than 1,000 officials and executives from 79 countries.