Visiting Iraqi leader predicts ‘very powerful’ Army in future

? The commander of the Iraqi Army visited Kansas on Friday to visit soldiers getting ready to deploy to his country and train his troops.

Gen. Babaker Zebari, the Iraqi Army chief of staff, expressed optimism that peace could be created in his war-torn country with the help of Fort Riley trainers.

“The way things are going I am confident the Iraqi Army will be a very powerful, very strong, very capable Army in the near future,” Zebari said.

“We hope and we envision that by March ’08 the vast majority of American troops will be able to leave the country and be withdrawn,” he told reporters.

“I think he clearly recognizes and reiterated to us that it must be the Iraqis that are in the lead,” said Maj. Gen. Carter Ham, commander for the 1st Infantry Division at Fort Riley.

That’s what Ham’s “transition training team” is trying to help happen. U.S. soldiers are learning to communicate with the Iraqis so they can teach Iraqi forces to fight for themselves.

Wearing civilian clothes, Zebari watched U.S. soldiers train with others playing the role of Iraqi soldiers. He said the training was good, but he noted that successful training of Iraqi forces will require increased cultural awareness by Americans.

“Mostly he’s asked us to make sure we continually emphasize the importance of understanding the cultural environment in which our advisers and our soldiers are operating,” Ham said.

Also Friday in Kansas, the outgoing Saudi ambassador to the United States said American troops should not be withdrawn from Iraq until the American and Iraqi governments agree on the best time for that.

Prince Turki al-Faisal, who resigned as ambassador in December after 15 months on the job, said the United States “came into Iraq uninvited and it should not leave uninvited.”

Prince Turki added that Congress should not limit the number of troops sent to Iraq because doing so would send the wrong message.

“I think any limitations on the president’s authority at this time will send the message that he is not a free agent and thereby will diminish the authority of the president,” he said after a lecture at Kansas State University.

– The Associated Press contributed to this report.