Page 2 of 2   <      

Iraqi Deputy PM: Coalition Must Not Run

The spokesman said the talks had touched on topics including the Iraqi economy.

"The prime minister reiterated again that we fully support the Iraqi government in trying to get to a situation where it can take control of its destiny," he said.

British defense officials have repeatedly insisted they hope to hand over all security responsibilities in southern Iraq in 2007, cutting the number of troops based in the country from about 7,000 to between 3,000 and 4,000.

British forces relinquished control of the southern Muthanna province in July and neighboring Dhi Qar province in September, leaving international troops in control of Basra and Maysan provinces.

Saleh declined to confirm Monday whether Iraqi forces would assume control of both Basra and Maysan in 2007. British defense officials expected to hand over Maysan either next month or early next year.

"We understand this cannot be an open-ended commitment by the international community. At the end of the day it is up to the Iraqi people and the Iraqi government to establish security," Saleh told reporters.

He said his government could not set any timetable for assuming full control, but was "aware of the gravity and the seriousness of the situation and that the government of Iraq needs to assume more responsibility."

Saleh also stressed that stability is dependent on neighboring Syria and Iran working with the Iraqi government and respecting its sovereignty.

Beckett called on the Iraqi people to show more support for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government, claiming "it is the best game in town, if not the only game in town."

<       2

© 2006 The Associated Press