BAGHDAD, May 22 (Reuters) - Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said on Monday he believed Iraqi forces could take over security in most of the country by the end of this year.
"There's an agreement and, according to this schedule for handing over security, Samawa and Amara provinces will be handed over to Iraqis in June and by the end of this year this operation will be completed except for Baghdad and maybe Anbar," he told a joint news conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Blair declined to be drawn on a timetable for withdrawal but stressed that foreign troops would pull out as fast as Iraqi forces were able to take over. Earlier, one of his officials said all foreign combat troops could be gone in four years.
Samawa and Amara are southern, Shi'ite provinces, largely peaceful and controlled by British troops whose commanders have said they may withdraw from some provinces soon. Anbar is the restive western desert stronghold of Sunni Arab insurgents.
Maliki's timetable, which would coincide with the expiry of a United Nations mandate for the U.S.-led coalition forces, is more ambitious than anything voiced publicly by U.S. or British commanders, who stress that any withdrawal will depend on Iraqi forces being able to ensure security.
Maliki also said Iraqi forces needed more training as the foreign withdrawal proceeded province by province and he warned that if his policy of disarming and disbanding militias failed, it could yet lead to "civil war".
never ending war