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Iraq ready to handle its security: Panetta

Washington: Calling Iraq a sovereign nation and emerging democracy, the US, which is set to withdraw its remaining troops from there by year-end, on Tuesday declared that the war-torn country is ready to handle its security without a significant American military footprint.

"Today… Iraq is governing itself as a sovereign nation, as an emerging source of stability in a vital part of the world, and as an emerging democracy capable of addressing its own security needs," Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said in his testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee at a Congressional hearing on Iraq.

"For our part, the United States is ready to mark the beginning of a new phase in our relationship with Iraq one that is normal, similar to others in the region, and based on mutual interests and mutual respect," he said.

As the US forces from Iraq are withdrawing as per schedule, Panetta said going forward the US will pursue a long-term training relationship through the Office of Security Cooperation-Iraq, which will include a limited number of US military personnel operating under its embassy and receiving normal diplomatic protections.

"Through the US-Iraq Strategic Framework Agreement, we will also have a platform for future cooperation in counter-terrorism, naval and air defence and joint exercises," it said. "I believe Iraq is ready to handle security without a significant US military footprint," Panetta said.

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