'Troops needed longer in Iraq'

Iraq's president, has said he believes US and British troops will need to stay in Iraq for one or two more years.

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Saying he is worried about growing opposition in the US Congress to funding for war, Jalal Talabani said the troops are needed to help stem surging violence.

Mr Talabani told students at the University of Cambridge that all of Iraq is safer because Saddam Hussein's was ousted, and that many people are living "normal" lives.

"I think within one or two years we will be able to recruit our forces and prepare our armed forces and tell goodbye to our friends," he said.

He also expressed support for Prime Minister Tony Blair's likely successor, Gordon Brown, who pledged today to learn from the mistakes of the Iraq war.

"I don't know him personally," Mr Talabani said of Mr Brown. "All those Iraqis who met him, including our excellent ambassador here, they are praising him and saying that he's a very clever man, capable, smart."

The Iraqi president also spoke of his concern over growing opposition from Democratic lawmakers in the United States to funding the war without a clear timetable for the withdrawal of American troops.

The US House of Representatives has now passed a draft bill that would fund the war only until July. The bill is unlikely to survive in the Senate, but it indicates the war's unpopularity among US lawmakers and their frustration with the lack of progress in the Iraqi parliament.

"We are concerned," Mr Talabani said. "We hope that Congress will review this decision and help the American army to stay until the Iraqi army will be able to replace them and to protect the security of Iraq."

He offered assurances that Iraq's leaders are doing everything they can on the political front to pursue reconciliation among divided ethnic and religious factions.

But he gave no details on how, for example, minority Sunni Arabs will be given a greater voice in politics, an achievement that many hope will weaken support for the insurgency.

He also would not elaborate on another key American demand – to end delays in the passage of legislation outlining how oil revenues will be shared among Sunnis, Shi'ites and Kurds.

"We are planning to show some tangible achievements to the Congress that we are going forward for national reconciliation, for national unity, for fighting terrorism and achieving peace and security in our country," Mr Talabani said.

The Iraqi president offered praise for Blair, whom he met this morning over breakfast, saying: "We consider Blair as a hero of the liberation of Iraq."

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