By Qassim Abdul-Zahra
BAGHDAD -- U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Sunday for greater intelligence cooperation between the U.S. and Iraq as the American military moves to withdraw its forces from the country by 2012.
Pelosi told reporters she had discussed intelligence sharing with Iraqi lawmakers after she arrived for a one-day visit. She was accompanied by Rep. Rush Holt, a New Jersey Democrat who chairs a House committee that oversees U.S. intelligence operations.
'If we are going to have a diminished physical military presence, we are have to have a strong intelligence presence,' Pelosi said.
Pelosi, a California Democrat and strong critic of the U.S.-led 2003 invasion, did not elaborate.
On Tuesday, however, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told The Associated Press that Iraqi forces were ready to take over their own security but needed help gathering intelligence to target insurgents and prevent attacks.
The U.S. is also keen to ensure that al-Qaida in Iraq and other threat groups do not reconstitute their ranks as the U.S. draws down ahead of the 2012 deadline.
The former U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, told Fox News Sunday that he expected al-Qaida 'will continue to try to reestablish itself in Iraq' although the terror group's senior leadership 'appears to have shifted away somewhat' from operations here.
Those threat groups also include Shiite extremists which the U.S. believes are funded and supported by Iran, Iraq's neighbor to the east. Tehran denies the charge.
President Barack Obama has called for removing all U.S. combat troops from Iraq by September of next year.
Appearing with Pelosi, Iraq's newly elected parliament speaker, Ayad al-Samarraie, said the two sides also discussed the implementation of the various agreements governing the presence of American troops and their eventual withdrawal.
'We are aware that there are problems, but both the Iraqi government and parliament are trying to make use of the partnership between us and the United States in order to solve problems,' al-Samarraie said.
Pelosi opposed the 2007 increase in U.S. troops which has been widely credited with contributing to a substantial reduction of violence in much of country in the past two years.
She has also urged the Iraqi government to make greater efforts at political reconciliation among Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds.
Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said that the prime minister did not discuss military affairs with Pelosi during their meeting, but rather focused on economic relations as well as the issue of reparations.
In particular, al-Maliki asked for help with fending off demands from Iraq's neighbors for reparations dating back to Saddam Hussein's regime, the spokesman said.
'Al-Maliki requested the United States protect Iraqi funds and put an end to the demands of other countries which feel they were harmed during the two Gulf wars of the former regime,' al-Dabbagh added.
Kuwait, which is also a close U.S. partner, still claims billions of dollars in war reparations from Iraq dating from the 1990 invasion and has refused appeals by Baghdad to reduce their demands and forgive about $15 billion in Iraqi debt.