Iraq President Says Democrats Reassuring

The Associated Press
Thursday, November 9, 2006; 4:44 PM

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- President Jalal Talabani said Thursday that he had been assured by Democrat congressional leaders during a recent visit to Washington that they had no plans for a quick withdrawal of U.S. forces.

Talabani, a Kurd whose post is ceremonial, said Democrats also backed the idea of placing U.S. troops in bases while putting Iraqis in charge of security in and around cities.

"They all told me that they want the success of Iraq's democratically elected government and continued support for the Iraqi people to defeat terrorism," Talabani said about his trip to the United States in late September as many were predicting the Democratic congressional triumph in Tuesday's midterm elections.

"One of them (a Democrat leader) told me that any early withdrawal will be a catastrophe for the United States and the world," Talabani, speaking from his northern hometown of Sulaimaniyah, told the Dubai-based Al-Jazeera satellite broadcaster.

Asked whether the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld meant a collapse of the Bush administration's policy in Iraq, Talabani said, "I know George Bush as a clear and strong man who does not bow down to blackmail."

The "Americans made big mistakes in Iraq," he said, including the rejection of its leaders hopes to form an interim Iraqi government immediately after the March 2003 invasion rather than occupying the country for more than a year.

Speaking about foreign fighters who are known to play a major role in the insurgency that killed thousands of Iraqis as well as U.S. troops, Talabani said the country was subject to a "foreign invasion."

He said thousands of non-Iraqi fighters had been killed. Al-Qaida in Iraq leader Abu Ayyub al-Masri, also known as Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, recently acknowledged that more than 4,000 fighters from his group have been killed.

"We are being subjected to a foreign invasion, and we don't have enough forces to fight this invasion," Talabani said, suggesting that U.S. troops need to stay.

The Iraqi government and U.S. officials accuse Syria of allowing foreign fighters to cross into Iraq, a claim that Iraq's western neighbor denies, claiming it is impossible to control the long desert border.

"All Arab countries have terrorists in our country, hundreds each, and also there are others from Muslim countries too," Talabani said.

He added that "200 fighters used to enter the country every day and now it is about 30 a day."

© 2006 The Associated Press