EXCLUSIVE: Iraqi Army Not Ready Until End of 2008

Iraqi president says U.S. troops need to help until the end of next year.

ByABC News
June 2, 2007, 6:25 PM

June 3, 2007 — -- Iraqi President Jalal Talabani says the Iraqi people do not want U.S. troops to leave anytime soon.

In an exclusive, one-on-one interview with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos on "This Week," the Iraqi leader said a more long-term American military presence is needed.

"Many people in Iraq prefer not to have permanent, but they want to see, after ending the terrorism, to have American, some American military bases in special parts of Iraq to protect the sovereignty and independence," Talabani told Stephanopoulos.

That vision is in stark contrast to what members of Congress recently laid out in a war funding bill. They have said if the Iraqi government doesn't make progress on set benchmarks by September, they will withdraw their support and call for U.S. troops to start coming home.

Talabani is committed to meeting benchmarks, but does not believe the Iraqi army will be able to defend its own country until 2008.

"I agree to put constructive pressure on Iraqi government, but I think we must be realistic," the Talabani continued. "Unless we will be able to prepare our forces, armed forces including army and police forces, to replace coalition forces, something is unpractical."

Talabani did, however, say he is seeing signs of progress in Iraq, including the waning influence of radical leader Muqtada al-Sadr.

"There are people within his army who are not even loyal to him, who penetrated his forces, that are doing bad things," Talabani said.

Al-Sadr, though, is only one part of a complicated puzzle that is being pieced together slower than many Americans would like. Talabani had this message for them.

"I think we can achieve in next weeks and coming weeks and months," he said, "achievement that will convince public opinion of United States that their sacrifice was not in vain."