Iraqi leader confident of defeating Al-Qaida
The prime minister expresses confidence that his government can declare victory against Al-Qaida and achieve political stability.16 April 2008
BRUSSELS - Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki expressed confidence on Wednesday that his government would defeat Al-Qaida in Iraq and that its confrontation with militia fighters would help achieve political stability.
Speaking a day after nearly 60 people were killed in bombings blamed on Al-Qaida in Iraq, the prime minister said Iraq's leaders were "determined to achieve victory against terrorism".
Al-Maliki was speaking to lawmakers at the European Parliament during a visit to EU headquarters in which he is pushing for closer ties with the 27-nation bloc.
"We are today more confident than any time before that we are close to the point where we can declare victory against Al-Qaida ... and its allies," Al-Maliki said.
On Tuesday, bombings blamed on Al-Qaida in Iraq tore through market areas in Baghdad and outside the capital, killing nearly 60 people.
The bloodshed - in four cities as far north as Mosul and as far west as Ramadi - struck directly at U.S. claims that the Sunni insurgency is waning and being replaced by Shiite militia violence as a major threat.
Al-Maliki oversaw a faltering offensive against Shiite militia fighters in the southern port of Basra last month.
His Shiite political rivals have portrayed the clampdown as an attempt to diminish their growing power before provincial elections in October. Al-Maliki's government says it is only aiming to weed out criminal groups that have controlled the city since 2005.
On Wednesday al-Maliki said the latest fighting would not deter efforts to keep the provincial elections on track. Laws to enable the vote are making their way through Iraq's parliament.
"The militias, whether in the south or in Baghdad, in Mosul ... combating them is to ensure that there won't be any militias that will interfere with these elections, that there won't be misleading results," he said. "Any security action that we carry out to combat outlaws and the militias will provide the necessary atmosphere for political stability.'
Al-Maliki's visit was eagerly awaited by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, who, along with other EU officials, is keen to forge closer economic ties, especially in opening up Iraq's vast oil and gas reserves to European energy firms. That would contribute to EU efforts to lessen dependence on energy supplies from Russia.
Iraqi officials said Al-Maliki was seeking to enhance political, security, military and economic relations, especially in oil and gas.
In January, the EU Commission said it wanted to see Iraq link into the Mashreq Arab pipeline project from Egypt to Jordan, near the Syrian border.
The gas pipeline, now being built, will extend through Syria to Turkey, where European customers will be able to get supplies from Egypt and other countries.
The pipeline could eventually link to the separate EU - and U.S.-backed Nabucco pipeline that is to carry gas from Middle Eastern and Caspian countries, other than Russia, via Turkey to Europe.
European officials say that would generate revenue to finance Iraq's reconstruction while reducing Western Europe's dependency on Russian gas imports.
"As you know, Iraq is a rich country. We are not asking for direct assistance to Iraq in order to fund our projects. What we need is technical assistance" to help rebuild, Al-Malaki said.
Iraq's Oil Ministry has said it planned to draft contracts to develop new oil fields with international oil companies this year.
[AP / Expatica]