Iraqi PM: Troops will be ready in 18 months

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Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Wednesday that Iraqi forces are capable of taking control of security in all of Iraq within 18 months, but that they still need more recruits, training and equipment.

Meanwhile, U.S. forces killed seven insurgents in two operations outside the capital, and a bomb set fire to an oil pipeline south of Baghdad, officials said.

After meeting with Denmark�s prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, al-Maliki issued a statement welcoming the Danish visit and saying: �Our forces are capable of taking over the security in all Iraqi provinces within in a year and a half.�

His brief statement praised Iraqi forces for their fighting against insurgents, but said his military needs more manpower, training and equipment.

It was the latest of several deadlines that have been discussed recently regarding Iraq�s plans to take over more of the security of the country from the U.S.-led coalition.

On Monday, during British Prime Minister Tony Blair�s visit, al-Maliki said Iraqi security forces would start assuming full responsibility for some provinces and cities next month, beginning a process leading to the eventual withdrawal of all coalition forces.

Blair and al-Maliki declined to set a timetable for that withdrawal, but British media quoted an unidentified senior British official traveling with Blair as saying coalition forces should be out of Iraq within four years.

The British and Iraqi leaders said �responsibility for much of Iraq�s territorial security should have been transferred to Iraqi control� by December. At that point, al-Maliki said, two of Iraq�s most violent provinces, Baghdad and Anbar, may be the last where coalition forces maintain control.

Blair will be holding a summit with U.S. President George W. Bush later this week to discuss several issues, including the coalition strategy in the Iraq war.

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