Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki said on Saturday his country's security forces are ready to take over from the Americans, following U.S. president’s announcement to withdraw U.S. combat forces from Iraq by the end of August 2010 but leave up to 50,000 troops until 2011.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters that President Barack Obama called Maliki during his flight to North Carolina on Friday to brief him on U.S. plans to withdraw troops from Iraq.
Meanwhile, Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi welcomed on Saturday the pullout of U.S. combat troops outlined by Obama but stressed that Washington still has a "great responsibility" to help Iraq.
"We welcome the commitment of the U.S. administration to withdraw its troops from Iraq as scheduled," Hashemi said in a statement issued by his office.
Hashemi said Iraq would continue to develop its fledgling security forces but stressed that the job of the United States and international community was far from over.
"Iraq will still need the international community for some time to build a state of law, and the United States has a great responsibility in this area," he said.
Both Maliki's and Hashemi's staments came amid flaring violence in Iraq, casting doubts on the readiness of Iraqi security forces to fully take charge of the situation after the U.S. troops leave the country.
On Saturday, a roadside bomb wounded six people, including three police officers, when it struck a police patrol in Baghdad's eastern district of Zaafaraniya on Saturday, police said.
Another bomb wounded two civilians when it exploded while a police patrol passed in Baghdad's southern district of Doura.
In Hawija, north of Baghdad, gunmen shot dead two members of a group of U.S.-backed neighbourhood patrolmen, and wounded another two, in an attack on their checkpoint in Hawija.
Obama had announced on Friday he would withdraw U.S. combat forces from Iraq by Aug. 31, 2010, winding down the unpopular six-year war but leaving behind up to 50,000 troops until the end of 2011.
Obama's decision to leave a sizable force to bolster stability was welcomed by congressional Republicans, including former presidential candidate Senator John McCain, while some Democrats were concerned too many troops would remain in Iraq.
“But let there be no doubt: Iraq is not yet secure, and there will be difficult days ahead. Violence will continue to be a part of life in Iraq. Too many fundamental political questions about Iraq's future remain unresolved ... Declining oil revenues will put an added strain on a government that has had difficulty delivering basic services," Obama said.
Iraq now faces serious challenges to rebuild the country from years of war as oil revenues have sharply plunged, Iraqi officials say.
Oil exports from Iraq's southern Basra terminal fell to a rate of 648,000 barrels per day on Saturday from 1.48 million bpd on Friday due to reduced crude stocks in storage, a shipper said.
Exports from Basra, which tend to fluctuate along with weather or technical problems, averaged 1.4 million bpd in January, according to the State Oil Marketing Organization.
Iraq, which has the world's third largest proven oil reserves, is seeking to boost output to raise government revenues to rebuild after years of war.