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Iraq's vice president says Iraq should call on US for security help

Adel Abdul Mahdi says in an interview with the Monitor that political reluctance to ask US troops for security support should be reconsidered.

By Jane ArrafCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / September 16, 2009

US Vice President Joe Biden (l.) meets Iraq's Shi'ite Vice President Adel Abdul Mehdi in Baghdad on Wednesday, on the second day of Biden's trip to Iraq.

Ross Colvin / Reuters

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Baghdad

Iraq should consider calling for more help from US forces in the wake of August's devastating suicide truck bombings in Baghdad, Vice President Adel Abul Madhi told the Monitor.

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In an implicit criticism of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's reluctance to ask for help from the US following the June 30 pullback of combat troops, Dr. Abdul Mahdi called for a re-assesment of the role of US forces here that could result in more involvement for American troops sidelined by what he termed an over-optimistic view of security in Iraq.

"This should be reassessed once again - whether it was too early, whether it was adequate this should be assessed," he said on Sunday when asked whether the withdrawal of combat troops from Iraqi cities has weakened security.

Abdul Mahdi said he was not suggesting renegotiating the Status of Forces Agreement which calls for a gradual withdrawal of US troops. He said the goal would be 'how to use the troops already there, to (not) neglect them, to make them functional in the way they should help Iraq, assist Iraq. There was a policy to put them completely aside. Whether that was mature or premature one should reassess and study and I think if it is reassessed we will find many weak points there."

Abdul Mahdi, whose Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) has formed a new coalition that is expected to challenge Mr. Maliki in the next election, called for an investigation into why senior security officials waited three hours to ask for US help after the bombing of the foreign and finance ministries. "Three hours after the bombing asking Americans to come to the scene should be studied," he said.

The Aug. 19 truck bombings killed more than 90 people and wounded more than 600 others in what was widely seen as a systemic security failure. Some officials believe that asking for US assistance sooner would have helped in rescue efforts and the gathering of forensic evidence that could lead to the killers.

"We were always arguing that we still have a security problem, while others were arguing we were finished with that," said Abdul Mahdi, who is expected to be his coalition's candidate for prime minister. "Minimizing their importance was a big mistake, and advocating that 'everything is now well' was a false message given to the people."

Rivals and security

Maliki has in recent months been building a case for reelection founded partly on claims that the worst of Iraq's war is over. As US combat forces withdrew from the city, his government ordered the removal of some checkpoints and blast walls around Baghdad. Now, Abdul Mahdi says, Iraq needs to decide how the remaining US forces here can best be used [Editor's note: The original misstated points about the removal of protective walls in Baghdad.].

US Vice President Joe Biden arrived in Iraq on Tuesday, and Abdul Mahdi said ahead of the visit that he welcomed any efforts from Mr. Biden to ease Arab-Kurdish tensions, including over the disputed city of Kirkuk.

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