Only 700 American personnel remain in Iraq - PM
Politics 12/21/2011 5:27:00 PM

BAGHDAD, Dec 21 (KUNA) — Up to 700 American personnel and staff are staying in Iraq to help in various programs, including training of local cadres, said Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki on Wednesday.
The Americans, whom he described as trainers, would work according to Iraqi regulations and would not venture out of premises of camps and specified locations, the prime minister said at a news conference, shedding light on continuing American aid for the local authorities, following completion of pullout of the American combat forces from the country.
There are no American military forces left behind in the country, he said, adding that a team of "civilian personnel" will remain in the country for training purposes.
Number of staff of the US embassy ranges between 1,500 and 2,000 and the figure will either be increased or decreased, "according to our requests," Al-Maliki said, re-affirming that no combat foreign forces remained in the country following the recent pullout of the American troops.
The prime minister has denied reports about presence of thousands of staff at the American embassy building, noting that some of the American experts are aiding the local authorities in the sectors of education, health, investments, agriculture and industries.
"The Americans have been helpful friends and have not meddled in the security affairs since working out the security accord with them in 2008," he said.
On the campaign to uproot the Baath party, he noted that the authorities clamped down on the Baathists before the Americans' pullout to avert criticisms and claims regarding the time of the campaign.
Al-Maliki said some leaders of the outlawed Baath party has recently called on followers to be ready to re-take control of the ruling political system after the withdrawal of the American forces.
The outlawed party of Saddam Hussein, who was executed after the 2003 allied operation for the liberation of the nation, had ruled the country for many years. The regime was notorious for bloody and merciless repression of opponents.
On status of the opposition Iranian movement, Mujahedin Khalq, which has maintained bases in the country for many years, Al-Maliki indicated at an understanding with the United Nations to organize departure of half of the opposition group members by the end of the current year. However, the organization has rejected such a plan and "has taken escalatory stances," he added.
Presence of the group, originally comprising activists advocating leftist ideologies, has always been a thorn in the ties between Iraq and neighboring Iran.
On the Syrian crisis, Al-Maliki said Syria's consent to sign the Arab-brokered protocol was fruit of Baghdad's mediation, adding that the Iraqi capital would host leaders of the Syrian opposition for further talks aimed at settling the question. (end) mhg.rk KUNA 211727 Dec 11NNNN