The top U.S. commander in Iraq says U.S. forces will remain in Iraqi
cities beyond the June deadline set for their withdrawal from urban
areas. General Raymond
Odierno Saturday told reporters that troops will stay on in Iraqi
cities to advise and train local security forces. He did not give a
deadline for their departure.
It was not yet clear how Iraqi
lawmakers will respond to General Odierno's plan. The new U.S.-Iraq
security agreement, which Iraq's parliament approved last month, calls
for U.S. forces to withdraw from Iraqi cities by June 30 of next year.
also described the continuity of the U.S. mission in Iraq, insisting
that American troops would continue to provide logistical support to
their Iraqi counterparts to keep the peace inside Iraqi cities.
think it will be combat forces outside of the cities, obviously because
we'll continue to provide assistance and transition teams; we'll still
provide enablers to the Iraqi security forces," he said. "They're
unable to deliver those to themselves. We have close partnerships at
all levels; we'll continue to have those close partnerships that allow
them to continue to execute the mission inside of the cities."
Defense Secretary Robert Gates arrived in Iraq earlier Saturday, for
meetings with senior commanders in preparation for the upcoming
Iraq's parliament approved the security pact after fierce debate. It is scheduled to be put to a referendum next year.
of the pact, including supporters of anti-American Shi'ite cleric
Moqtada al-Sadr, have argued it gives legitimacy to a destructive
foreign occupation and say they do not believe the United States will
honor the withdrawal date.
But, Iraqi Defense Ministry spokesman Mohammed al-Askari insisted Iraqi forces would be able to take over from U.S. troops.
says that Iraqi forces are definitely ready to take control and that
the U.S.-Iraqi security pact is based on a report by the Iraqi Defense
and Interior Ministries which concluded that Iraqi forces are ready to
take control at the beginning of next year. He says that Iraqi forces
are also ready to take control of positions in Iraqi cities when U.S.
forces start leaving them, next July. We wouldn't have signed the pact
if we weren't ready, he says.
U.S. President-elect Barack Obama
campaigned on a pledge to withdraw troops within 16 months, but he has
said the United States may need to keep an undefined "residual" force
in Iraq that might focus on training Iraqi forces.
agreement, which takes effect on January 1, would have all U.S. troops
out of Iraq by 2011. It also gives Iraq strict oversight over some
150,000 U.S. forces in the country.