Global General

US military withdrawal on track: Iraq PM

Updated: 2009-12-16 23:51
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BAGHDAD: Massive bombings and scattered daily violence won't impede American troops from leaving Iraq by the end of 2011, the country's prime minister said Wednesday.

Nouri al-Maliki blamed explosions in two major Iraqi cities a day earlier on al-Qaida extremists and former Baath Party loyalists. He said both groups, whom he blamed for three massive bombings since August, seek to derail Iraq's fragile political process.

But the December 31, 2011 deadline for the U.S. military withdrawal, he said, remains "in a final form, with fixed timetables."

"It is something we underscore many times, and with the U.S. side as well," al-Maliki said in an hourlong news conference in central Baghdad's Green Zone. "So the withdrawal will not be affected."

Tuesday's bombings killed nine people and wounded scores in Baghdad and the northern city of Mosul. They happened exactly a week after a series of suicide bombers in Baghdad killed 127 and injured more than 500.

Massive bombings in August and October, also in Baghdad, together killed 250. Nearly all the attacks in the capital targeted government buildings.

Al-Maliki said the attackers were seeking to scuttle Iraq's March 7 national elections.

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The prime minister, a Shiite, is running for re-election on a campaign that promises security and unity in Iraq.

"They want to damage the political process," he said of those behind the bombings. "The elections will definitely take place on time whatever the terrorists do."

He added that holding the vote would deal a "body blow" to insurgents seeking to thwart Iraq's political process.

Al-Maliki also offered a reward of 100 million Iraqi dinars (US $86,670) to anyone who can help lead security forces to garages or other hideouts where extremists assemble car bombs.

Top Iraqi security officials told parliament last week that car bombs are increasingly being manufactured in Baghdad workshops and prepared near the target sites.

The prime minister spoke as small bursts of violence continued cropping up across Iraq.

A bomb hidden inside a sack left in a minibus killed two passengers and wounded 6 others mid-afternoon in Baghdad's northern Kazimiyah neighborhood, according to police and hospital officials. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

Earlier, a bomb attached to a car killed an Awakening Council member and injured two others in Madain, about 14 miles south of Baghdad.