News / Middle East

US Military Prepares to Leave Iraq, But May Stay If Asked

Defense Secretary Robert Gates
Defense Secretary Robert Gates

Multimedia

Al Pessin

With Iraqi politicians still unable to form a government and two U.S. troop withdrawal deadlines looming, American and Iraqi officials are trading comments about the future of the bilateral defense relationship.

Thousands of U.S. combat troops are leaving Iraq every week, as the total American military presence in the country falls rapidly toward the target of 50,000 by the end of this month.  Even with the deadline three weeks away, the Pentagon's TV channel noted the formal end of the U.S. combat mission last Saturday.

"The Fourth Brigade of the Second Infantry Division formally handed over security responsibilities to the Sixth Iraqi Army Division on Saturday, the final U.S. combat team to transfer control of combat operations back to the Iraqi military," a newscaster said.

With that, the U.S. military focus in Iraq shifts completely to advising and assisting Iraqi forces.  Even the formal name of the mission will change on September first from Operation Iraqi Freedom to Operation New Dawn.  And under a U.S.-Iraqi agreement signed in 2008, there will be another withdrawal next year, leaving no U.S. troops in Iraq at all by December 31, 2011.

But ever since that agreement was signed there has been an expectation among experts and U.S. and Iraqi officials that it might well be amended before it is fully implemented.

"No, it's not surprising, but I think we have to put it in perspective," said Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution, reacting to comments Wednesday by Iraq's senior military officer, Lieutenant General Babakir Zebari.  The general said Iraq will need U.S. troops for 10 more years.

"What you could see is this Iraqi general actually trying to put a little pressure on his own country's politicians, and also counter the current assumption that the United States can and should leave by the end of next year," he said.

O'Hanlon says the general is reflecting the views of many Iraqi and American military officers, who he says believe Iraq will need U.S. air power, trainers, Special Forces and other support well beyond the end of next year.  And he says there is a broader reason, too.

"Why do you want to run the risk of taking away this good friend of the Iraqi people, and this sort of stabilizing, independent, neutral capability in the form of the United States military, when you're not yet sure all the Iraqi wounds have adequately healed for that country to really be on a path toward stability," asked O'Hanlon.

Those unhealed wounds include disputes between Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis, and between the country's Arab and Kurdish communities.  And there is also the prospect that uneven governance and economic development, and a struggling justice system, could create an opportunity for militants to make a comeback.  Experts also note Iraq will need to continue professionalizing and modernizing its forces and will need foreign help with those efforts.  Some say the most logical source of that help is the United States

But the prospect of a continued U.S. troop presence in Iraq beyond 2011 is a sensitive political issue in both countries.  U.S. officials say they are working to implement the full withdrawal plan, but they are open to talking about a change if Iraq's government wants to.  U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates made that point to reporters on his aircraft during a domestic trip on Wednesday.

"I think we have an agreement with the Iraqis that both governments have agreed to, that we will be out of Iraq at the end of 2011," he said. "If a new government is formed there and they want to talk about beyond 2011, we're obviously open to that discussion.  But that initiative will have to come from the Iraqis."

U.S. officials have been urging Iraqi politicians to settle their differences and form a new government to address a variety of important issues, including the troops issue.  Iraqi officials have been squabbling since the parliamentary election in March left the two main political blocs with almost equal power.

Experts say the troops issue will not likely be settled until Iraq has a government, and until officials in both countries have a chance to evaluate the performance of Iraqi forces in the new role they are now assuming - responsibility for security throughout their country.

In the meantime, officials in both Baghdad and Washington will offer their thoughts from time to time, in an effort to keep the issue alive and to promote their own views on how it should be resolved.

Related video report by Elizabeth Lee:

You May Like

Tired of Waiting, South Africans Demand Change ‘Now’

With chronic poverty and lack of basic services largely fueling recent xenophobic attacks, many in Rainbow Nation say it’s time for government to act More

Challenges Ahead for China's Development Plans in Pakistan

Planned $46 billion in energy and infrastructure investments in Pakistan are aimed at transforming the country into a regional hub for trade and investment More

Audio 'Forbidden City' Revisits Little Known Era of Asian-American Entertainment

Little-known chapter of entertainment history captured in 80s documentary is revisited in new digitally remastered format and book More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
X
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.
Video

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.
Video

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.
Video

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.
Video

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.
Video

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.
Video

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.
Video

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.
Video

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.
Video

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.
Video

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs