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

Obama Pledges 'Everything I Can' to Close Guantanamo

US president says prison continues 'to inspire jihadists and extremists around the world' More

Sierra Leone Educates on Safe Ebola Burials

Also, country is improving at rapid response to isolated outbreaks, but health workers need to be even faster, officials say More

Religion Aside, Christmas Gains Popularity in Communist Vietnam

Increasingly wealthy Vietnamese embrace Christmas precisely because of its non-religious glamor and commercial appeal 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.
US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubansi
X
Sharon Behn
December 19, 2014 9:34 PM
For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video US Decision on Cuba Underscores Divisions Among Miami Cubans

For decades, older, more conservative Cubans have been gathering at Café Versailles on the corner of Calle Ocho to eat Cuban food and talk politics. After hearing of President Barack Obama’s decision, a number of them gathered in front of the café with posters to protest. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on the situation.
Video

Video Three Cities Bid for Future Obama Presidential Library

President Barack Obama still has two years left in his term in office, but the effort to establish his post-presidential library is already underway. The bid for the Obama Presidential Library is down to four locations in three states -- New York, Hawaii, and Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, each of them played an important part in the president’s life before he reached the White House.
Video

Video Cuba Deal is Major Victory for Pope’s Diplomatic Initiatives

Pope Francis played a key role in brokering the US-Cuba deal that was made public earlier this week. It is the most stunning success so far in a series of peacemaking efforts by the pontiff. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Fears of More Political Gridlock in 2015

2014 proved to be a difficult year politically for President Barack Obama and a very good year for the U.S. Republican Party. Republican gains in the November midterm elections gave them control of the Senate and House of Representatives for the next two years -- setting the stage for more confrontation and gridlock in the final two years of the Obama presidency. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone has a preview from Washington.
Video

Video Sudan School Becomes Target of Aerial Attacks

The school dropout rate is at an all-time high in Sudan's South Kordofan state because many schools have been destroyed during the three-year civil war between the government and SPLA-N rebel forces. Adam Bailes visited Sudan's Nuba Mountains' region and reports many children are simply too scared to go to school
Video

Video VOA Reporter Tours Devastated Peshawar School

Islamist militants wearing military uniforms and strapped with explosives attacked a military run school Tuesday in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. At least 141 people were killed in the horrific attack, most of them young students. VOA reporter Ayaz Gul visited the devastated school and attended the funeral of the principal who courageously tried to save her students from the deadly attack.
Video

Video Nigerians Fleeing Boko Haram Languish in Camp Near Capital

In its five-year effort to impose Islamic law in northeastern Nigeria, the Boko Haram extremist group has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee. Some of those who ran for their lives now live in squalor on the edges of the capital, Abuja. Chris Stein reports for VOA.
Video

Video Aceh Rebuilt Decade After Tsunami, But Scars Remain

On December 26, 2004 there was an earthquake in the Indian Ocean so powerful it caused the Earth’s axis to wobble a few centimeters. Onshore on the island of Sumatra, the resulting tsunami was devastating. A decade later, VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Banda Aceh, Indonesia, where although there is little remaining evidence of the physical devastation, the psychological scars among survivors remain.

All About America

AppleAndroid