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Iraqi security adviser expects U.S. combat role to decline

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  • Mowaffak al-Rubaie says Iraqi security forces improving
  • Al-Rubaie praises Petraeus, Crocker for candid testimony
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- Iraq's government expects fewer combat operations for U.S.-led coalition troops in the near future, the country's national security adviser said Tuesday.

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Iraqi National Security Adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie says Iraq will need U.S. help for some time to come.

Mowaffak al-Rubaie, reacting to testimony Monday by U.S. Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker on Capitol Hill, said Iraq is aiming "to achieve complete Iraqi security reliance as soon as possible."

But he said his country still needs help.

"We know that for some time we will continue to need the support of the coalition," al-Rubaie said.

Al-Rubaie expressed appreciation for the "transparency and candor" of Petraeus and Crocker, who underscored that the Iraqi government, while making some progress, faces many severe challenges in the months and years ahead.

Addressing the frustrations of citizens and officials, al-Rubaie said the government wished it were further along but it is doing what it can on all fronts -- militarily, politically, and economically.

He noted that despite "progress," there have been "setbacks" in what has been a "most difficult path."

"We Iraqis are, of course, impatient and we wish our progress was more rapid. We understand this as well as the impatience and disappointment of our coalition supporters who expected more, sooner."

Al-Rubaie said the armed forces that were built from scratch in the post-Saddam Hussein era were making strides.

Three years ago, none of the country's 18 provinces were under Iraqi control. Today, seven provinces are under full Iraqi security responsibility, and there will be more transfers of power.

And he said Iraq has almost 500,000 trained soldiers and police operating against insurgents. By the middle of next year, he said, all the Iraqi army combat units will be "organized, equipped and trained and in operations."

"The capabilities of our security forces are now formidable," he said.

And, he said, the citizenry is turning against "our common enemy," a reference to the "tribal awakening" of Iraqis who are turning against militants, such as al Qaeda in Iraq. Such a development has been touted in Iraq's Anbar province.

He said Iraq has just published a national security strategy, he said.

"With the significant and visible success of the current security operation and the increasing capabilities of Iraqi forces, we anticipate in the near term, the relaxation of the requirement for coalition forces in direct combat operations," al-Rubaie said.

"We will work with our coalition partners to make sure the coalition requirement in Iraq will take into consideration ... Iraqi capabilities and security conditions on the ground."

The political arena is of greatest concern to the U.S. government and its citizens.

The Nuri al-Maliki government has been beset by partisan bickering, sectarian tensions and bloc walkouts, and the Iraqi parliament has not yet passed key legislation.

Al-Rubaie characterized Iraqi government officials as "transparent defenders of the interests of all Iraqis and not of the privileged few, as was the case with the previous regime.

He praised the recent efforts by the 15-month-old government to forge a security plan and a mutual agreement among several top political parties.

"I want to reassure our citizens and our allies that our government is totally committed its work on all outstanding political matters keeping foremost the interests of Iraq while protecting the rights of even the smallest minority."

He said Iraq's economy is emerging from decades of neglect. He said local commerce, construction and reconstruction are booming in secure areas of the country.

Old industries are transforming themselves and tourism in the Kurdish region is emerging. He said oil and electricity continue to need much "investment and modernization," but they are "already exceeding the production level achieved before liberation."

He thanked the United States and other coalition allies for its "selfless commitment" to Iraq. But al-Rubaie's rhetoric, while optimistic, was cautionary as well: dangers are literally around the corner.

"Trust and mutual respect are still difficult and enormously hindered by the continuous attacks of the terrorists and extremists -- particularly foreign terrorists. We are not yet completely free to shape our future," he said. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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