BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq's prime minister says there is no need to change an agreement requiring that American forces leave by the end of 2011 because Iraqi forces are capable of taking care of the country's security.
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's comments to reporters on Saturday were some of his strongest to date and come just days after he was tasked with forming the next government.
Under an agreement between Iraq and the U.S., all American troops are to leave the country by the end of 2011. The U.S. currently has a little less than 50,000 troops in Iraq.
Al-Maliki said the agreement will stay as it is.
American officials have said they will abide by the agreement although they would consider any request by the new Iraqi government to stay longer.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq has arrested at least 12 suspected al-Qaida insurgents believed to be behind a deadly Baghdad church siege a month ago, the country's interior minister told The Associated Press on Saturday.
Interior Minister Jawad Bolani said the arrests, the first in connection to the October siege at the Our Lady of Salvation church, occurred in recent days.
He said the insurgents were behind a wide range of operations in Iraq leading up to the siege and described their arrest as a coup for security forces.
"It is a painful blow to al-Qaida," Bolani said.
Insurgents took about 120 people hostage during the Oct. 31 church attack. The siege ended hours later with 68 people dead in an attack that shocked many of Iraq's already-hardened citizens.
The attackers raided the church, located in one of Baghdad's more affluent neighborhoods during Sunday evening Mass. Dozens of cowering parishioners, and two priests were killed — one execution-style on the church floor — before Iraqi security forces stormed the building.
Al-Qaida later claimed responsibility for the attack and vowed in an Internet message to continue a campaign of bloodshed against Iraq's dwindling Christian minority.
According to Bolani, security forces also seized money and explosives during the arrests.
Bolani gave no details as to where and how the arrests took place, but an intelligence official responsible for monitoring al-Qaida cells in Iraq, said security forces acted on a tip to make the first arrest.
From that arrest, the security forces eventually managed to round up the entire group, the official said. He put the number of people arrested at 17.
The intelligence official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.