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Miliband: Leaders 'impatient' to run Iraq

Iraqi leaders are now "impatient" to run their affairs as conditions in the country improve by the week, David Miliband said today.

On a visit to Iraq, the UK Foreign Secretary said Iraq was "yearning" to make its own way after almost six years of occupation by US and British troops.

UK military operations in the southern Basra province are due to come to an end by 31 May with only a few hundred troops set to remain for training purposes.

US President Barack Obama is expected to announce today the withdrawal of most American forces by August 2010, although as many as 50,000 troops could remain beyond that date.

Asked whether the Iraqis were comfortable with those plans, Mr Miliband said he had discussed the issue with the country's prime minister, Nouri Maliki, yesterday.

"I think the Iraqis on the one hand are impatient to run their own affairs, on the other hand they recognise the vital and massive nature of the American contribution, and the help that it can give to them," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Mr Miliband said the US was making an "enduring commitment" to Iraq to ensure it was a stabilising force in the Middle East.

"I think there is a real yearning here for Iraqis to run their own affairs, to make their own mistakes but also to make their own progress," he said.

"However, it's clear that there is massive training function to be done on the security side, that's what Americans are going to focus on after the middle of next year."

After a round of talks with Mr Maliki and other Iraqi leaders in Baghdad yesterday, the Foreign Secretary will today visit British troops in Basra.

He is the first British minister to visit since provincial elections last month, which were largely peaceful and attracted a very high turnout.

Mr Miliband said 2008 had been a "critical year" in re-establishing security in Iraq and that politics were now "moving on to a more normal basis".

"I think those gains are now more sustainable," he went on.

"Every week that goes by I think strengthens Iraqi capacity and every week that goes by strengthens the confidence of the Iraqi people.

"In that respect the fact that the provincial elections went by on January 31 without incident I think was a signal event and really has given a new momentum.

"What the Iraqis now need to focus on are issues like economics and the electricity supply which are the bread and butter of politics around the world."

Apart from the few hundred to remain, British troops are set to leave the country for good by the end of July, more than six years after the 2003 invasion.