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Iraq PM: Govt 'prevented sectarian war'

  • Story Highlights
  • Iraq's PM touted his government's efforts in thwarting "sectarian war"
  • But said Iraqi troops not yet ready to take over from the U.S.-led coalition
  • U.S. Gen. David Petraeus due to appear before Congress on progress in Iraq
  • 12 militants killed in fighting between troops and insurgents near Samarra
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraq's prime minister Monday touted his government's efforts in thwarting "sectarian war" and acknowledged that Iraqi troops are not yet ready to fully take over security duties from the U.S.-led coalition.

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Nuri al-Maliki speaking at a conference between Middle Eastern countries on September 9.

"We have succeeded in preventing Iraq from going into sectarian war -- which threatened our dear Iraq -- and I am fully confident that national reconciliation is our only way that takes Iraq into safety in spite of all the destabilizing actions by local and international groups," said Nuri al-Maliki, who addressed the country's parliament, the Council of Representatives.

"Despite the security improvement, we still need more efforts and time in order for our armed forces to be able to take over security control in all Iraqi provinces from the multinational forces that helped us in a great way in fighting terrorism and outlaws" he told parliament.

Al-Maliki's comments came hours before U.S. Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker were to appear before Congress to deliver reports on military and political progress in Iraq.

Both men have expressed disappointment in the al-Maliki government's efforts to foster national reconciliation and are expected to underscore their concerns about the environment in Iraq, which has been wracked by insurgent violence and sectarian civil warfare.

At the same time, they are expected to tout some military strides, including more support from Sunni tribes against al Qaeda in Iraq and more security in Baghdad.

Al-Maliki said there has been a 75 percent drop in violence in Baghdad and nearby areas since the beefed-up Baghdad security plan started early in the year.

"The key to reconstruction, economic development and improving peoples' standard of living is security," he said.

The prime minister's comments about Iraqi troop readiness jibes with last week's report from the Independent Commission on Security Forces in Iraq, headed by retired Gen. James L. Jones, the former top United States commander in Europe.

It said that while there will be "continued improvement" in the "readiness and capability" of Iraqi security forces in the next 12 to 18 months, they still will not be able to "operate independently."

Al-Maliki and his Shiite-dominated government also have been the object of blunt criticism and skepticism from U.S. lawmakers. Democratic Sens. Carl Levin of Michigan and Hillary Clinton of New York, for example, have called for Iraq's parliament to remove him from office.

Meanwhile, 12 militants were killed in fighting on Monday between troops and insurgents just outside of the northern Iraqi city of Samarra, the U.S. military said.

The military said Iraqi and U.S. troops conducted a helicopter assault raid and were confronted by militants from al Qaeda in Iraq. Insurgents based in buildings fired at troops and wounded three U.S. soldiers. "

Three people were detained and a fourth "was positively identified as a hostage being held for ransom by the insurgents."

Samarra, in Salaheddin province, has been the scene of much fighting in recent months. It is the site of the Askariya Mosque, the Shiite shrine that was attacked twice -- apparently by Sunni militants. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.

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