News / Middle East

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

Defense Secretary Robert Gates
Defense Secretary Robert Gates

Multimedia

TEXT SIZE - +
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

Russia-Ukraine Crisis Could Trigger Cyber War

As tensions between Kyiv and Moscow escalate, so too has frequency of online attacks targeting government, news and financial sites More

Egyptian Court Jails 23 Pro-Morsi Supporters

Meanwhile, Egyptian officials say gunmen have killed two members of the country's security forces More

Pakistani Journalists Protest Shooting of Colleague

Hamid Mir, a host for private television channel Geo, was wounded after being shot three times Saturday, but is expected to survive 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.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid