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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Iraq's prime minister says that his country's army and police are ready to keep his country secure when U.S. troops leave. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's remarks at a press conference today were the first since the White House issued a report Thursday that says Iraq has made progress on some benchmarks, but has failed on others. Mr. al-Maliki said his country's forces need further weapons and training, but insisted they are capable of keeping order whenever U.S. troops pullout.

Andrew North of the BBC joins us from Baghdad. Thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. ANDREW NORTH (Baghdad Correspondent, BBC): Thank you for having me.

SIMON: And help us understand the context of the prime minister's remarks. Was in the context of a larger conversation?

Mr. NORTH: Well, this is actually the first reaction that the prime minister has given to that report. So while there was the frenzy of responses of goals for a troop withdrawal timetable in Washington, in fact, initially there was no response at all here in Iraq. So it's taken several days. That's quite typical for the Iraqis. I think, with this kind of thing they tend to try and stay clear of all these kinds of American debates.

But to some extent, really, what he was doing, he was shrugging off the criticism that has been coming from Washington saying that we can still go ahead. We are still on track. I have to say thought that's not the way people see it here. There really has been no sign that the government can get to grips with the various problems it's facing.

SIMON: Mm-hmm. Help us understand this, Mr. North, when Prime Minister al-Maliki says we can handle this situation whenever they leave, does that mean they can leave whenever they want?

Mr. NORTH: I don't think anyone believes that. And that includes many of his own officials because in the run-up to the release of that interim report on the surge, many of them were sounding - the warning that if the Americans think of pulling out too soon, this place will simply collapse. And it won't just be - it wouldn't just mean worse bloodshed here in Iraq, worse sectarian violence and a full-blown civil war, it will spread across the whole region.

So for the prime minister now to be saying that his own security forces could take over if the Americans go, it just does not stand up to the truth. And also, there continue to be major question marks over the ability of the security forces, on the police, in particular, they are still deeply infiltrated by Shia militias and there are still many question marks over the army as well.

SIMON: Mm-hmm. All right. So I gather there are other members of Mr. Maliki's own government who are saying different things, if not exactly in response to what he said.

Mr. NORTH: That's right. Now, certainly, there has been - from other officials - there has certainly been some anger at the criticism that has been coming from America, saying that they - Washington is now in fact trying to blame the Iraqis for America's own failings in their view. So certainly some frustration over that.

I think, though, the sense from here on the ground, though, is that there is deadlock. Reconciliation is seen as the only way forward to resolve the violence, but this has been talked about throughout the period of the surge, throughout the period in which the extra American troops have been getting here. And at the moment, there is no movement on any of these reconciliation measures.

SIMON: At the same time, is there any sense among some Iraqis that this period of the last few weeks has given them any kind of greater grip on security?

Mr. NORTH: In Baghdad, there is some reduction in sectarian violence, but it is still an incredibly dangerous city. Sectarian violence still continues every day. But overall, across Iraq, the level of violence stays the same. And so the moment there is no overall sign of change as a result of the surge.

SIMON: Andrew North of the BBC, thanks very much for being with us.

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