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US Commander says Iraq Withdrawal on Track

The commander of multi-national forces in Iraq, U.S. Army General Ray Odierno, said he does not believe a recent upsurge in violence will delay the withdrawal of most U.S. troops from Iraqi cities by the end of June.

General Odierno told reporters at the Pentagon the major attacks in Iraq over the past few weeks are a reminder the security situation in the country is still fragile in some areas.

"While the number of attacks is low, it is obvious that the terrorists are intent on conducting high profile suicide attacks designed to garner attention and spark sectarian discord within Iraq," he said.

April was one of the deadliest months in the last year, with a reported 355 Iraqis killed.

Many of the victims were Shi'ites, raising fears of renewed sectarian violence.

General Odierno said while the level of interference from Iran in Iraq has lessened, soldiers recently discovered a large cache of weapons near the Iranian border.

"We continue to ask them to stop the training of surrogates inside of Iran. We continue to ask them to stop funding these surrogate groups inside of Iraq. We also ask them to stop sending munitions into Iraq," Odierno said.

The general said most U.S. soldiers will leave Iraqi cities by June 30, and have already withdrawn from all major urban areas except Mosul and Baghdad.

Odierno said even after the pullback, some U.S. soldiers will remain in the cities in noncombat roles to help Iraqi security forces.

"What I am telling you is there is going to be about an 80 percent reduction of U.S. presence in the cities once we come out of the cities. What we are going to be doing is noncombat operations," he said. "We are going to be in liaison cells, we are going to be in cells that can help provide enablers for them, such as aviation, such as intelligence, such as other things. If they need help we have those elements there to say, if they request it, we can bring in combat assistance to help them."

U.S. President Barack Obama has pledged to withdraw all American combat troops from Iraq by the end of August 2010.

A security agreement between the U.S. and Iraq calls for all U.S. forces to leave the country by the end of 2011.

General Odierno said he believes the timetables will be met.

"I think we are on the right path that at the end of 2011 the government of Iraq will be able to hold its own, will be able to stand up in the regional community, international community, as I look at it today. If you ask me that a year from now I might have a different opinion, but I think we are on track for that right now," he said.

U.S. commanders have suggested American troops could stay in cities past June if the Iraqi government requests a delay in the departure from some sensitive urban areas.

So far government officials in Baghdad say they want to stick to the scheduled withdrawal.