U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Christopher Hill said Thursday the United States will meet a deadline to withdraw combat forces from Iraqi urban areas by the end of June. Hill, in Washington for consultations, told reporters overall violence in Iraq is declining but still a matter of concern.
There have been press reports that U.S. commanders are apprehensive about what might happen when combat troops complete their withdrawal from the major cities, in particular Baghdad and the politically-tense northern city of Mosul.
But in a talk with reporters here, Ambassador Hill said there should be no concern among Iraqis that the United States might not adhere to the June 30 withdrawal deadline set down in the two countries' security plan agreed to last year.
"What I know is that we're going to comply fully with our obligations under the security agreement. We signed that agreement and we will absolutely comply fully with it. And that means pulling all combat forces out of the cities. And I think what's important to understand is that in most cities in Iraq, our combat forces are already out of the cities. So this is not some brand-new model that we're not sure is going to work," he said.
Hill, widely known for his past role as chief U.S. delegate to North Korea nuclear negotiations, joked that the United States had left the best for last with the pending difficult withdrawals from Baghdad and Mosul.
The U.S. envoy said he had recently visited Mosul and noted considerable tension, and concern among Kurdish, Arab Muslim and Christian populations about the city's future.
He said the way forward there, as in the rest of Iraq, is through political dialogue, and said despite recent heavily publicized terror attacks - seemingly aimed at raising tensions between Shiite and Sunni Muslims - the overall trend of violence is downward.
"When you see the aggregate numbers put together by the U.S. military, you see there is an overall trending down. Now the real question is whether some of these attacks - in one case an attack on Iranian tourists actually - whether these attacks on obvious Shiite populations are ones that are going to be reciprocated. Certainly you're seen some attacks on Sunnis. Whether it's concerted or not, it's obviously, in our view, an attempt to stimulate tensions. And we're pleased to say it's not had the desired effect," he said.
Hill said the United States has lately observed fewer crossings into Iraq from Syria by would-be terrorists but said it is too early to say if this is a result of a recent intensified U.S.-Syrian dialogue.
He termed most welcome a decision by Egypt this week to send an ambassador to Baghdad after a four-year absence, and expressed hope other Arab states will do the same.
The United States, he said, really wants to see Iraq attached to its neighbors, and that anyone with an interest in regional stability and Iraq's development as a healthy democracy should be there.