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

Missouri Town Braces for Possible Racial Unrest

Situation in Ferguson hinges on whether white police officer will be indicted for August shooting death of unarmed black teen; decision could come Monday More

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of 1930s Deadly Famine

President Poroshenko compares Soviet-era ‘genocide’ to current tactics of pro-Russia rebels in Ukraine's east More

S. Philippines Convictions Elusive 5 Years After Election-related Killings

Officials vowed to deliver justice as the nation marked the anniversary of the country's worst political massacre that left 58 dead, more than half media 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.
New Skateboard Defies Gravityi
X
November 21, 2014 5:07 AM
A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Gay Evangelicals Argue That Bible Does Not Condemn Homosexuality

More than 30 U.S. states now recognize same-sex marriages, and an increasing number of mainline American churches are blessing them. But evangelical church members- which account for around 30 percent of the U.S. adult population - believe the Bible unequivocally condemns homosexuality. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender evangelicals are coming out. Backed by a prominent evangelical scholar, they argue that the traditional reading of the bible is wrong.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Mexico Protests Escalate Over Disappearances

Protests in Mexico over 43 students missing since September continue to escalate, reflecting growing anger among Mexicans about a political system they view as corrupt, and increasingly tainted by the drug trade. Mounting outrage over the disappearances is now focused on the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto, accused of not doing enough to end insecurity in the country. More from VOA's Victoria Macchi.
Video

Video US Senate Votes Down Controversial Oil Pipeline - For Now

The U.S. Senate has rejected construction of a controversial pipeline to transport Canadian oil to American refineries. The $5 billion project still could be approved next year, but it faces a possible veto by President Barack Obama. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the pipeline has exposed deep divisions in Congress about America’s energy future.
Video

Video Can Minsk Cease-fire Agreement Hold?

Growing tensions between government troops and separatists in eastern Ukraine further threaten a cease-fire agreement reached two months ago in the Belarusian capital of Minsk. Critics of U.S. policy in Ukraine say it is time the Obama administration gives up on that much-violated cease-fire and moves toward a new deal with Russia. VOA's Scott Stearns has more.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Ferguson Church Grapples with Race Relations

Many white residents of Ferguson, Missouri, say they chose to live there because of the American Midwest community's diversity. So, they were shocked when a white police officer killed an unarmed black teenager in August – and shaken by the resulting protests and violence. Some local churches are leading conversations on how to go forward. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid