Iraq's new president says U.S. and other allied forces are still needed in his country, but that he hopes a withdrawal of foreign troops will be possible within the next two years.
President Jalal Talabani dismissed the possibility of an immediate U.S. troop withdrawal, as demanded by Shi'ite militants during a recent demonstration in Baghdad. But, speaking on CNN's Late Edition program, Mr. Talabani vowed Iraq will create conditions that will eventually allow foreign forces to leave. "We are in great need to have American and other allied forces in Iraq until we will be able to rebuild our military forces. I think within two years we can do it, and in the same time we will remain in full consultation and coordination with our American friends who came to liberate our country," he said.
The Iraqi president expressed confidence that a constitution will be drafted in the months to come. He said that one of the tasks of the new government will be to put former ruler Saddam Hussein on trial.
The president said that extending democracy will promote unity in Iraq, and that no one should be surprised that a one-time Kurdish guerrilla leader was chosen as president. "When we struggle for a democratic Iraq, this must be based on full equality for all Iraqis, and the Kurds are one of the important part. Of course they have the right to any kind of post they deserve. The new democratic Iraq will be free from discrimination and from religious oppression," he said.
Also appearing on Late Edition was the chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Richard Lugar, who praised the ability of Iraqis of different backgrounds to engage constructively with each other, as demonstrated by the country's new leadership in recent days. "They represent folks in Iraq who have warred with each other since the beginning of the country. So this is an extraordinary turning point, that in a practical, pragmatic way they are sitting down and talking," he said.
But the ranking Democrat on the committee, Senator Joe Biden, cautioned that serious hurdles remain in Iraq. "The big outstanding issue here is: how are we going to get the Sunnis to get engaged in this [process], because no constitution that is going to be able to fly [be viable] is going to written between now and August without greater Sunni participation," he said.
Mr. Biden predicted U.S. forces will pull out of Iraq within two-to-three years - either because they are no longer needed, or because the American public grows weary of the troop commitment.