The U.S. Defense Department says that it's cancelling the deployment of
a 3,500-member Army brigade to Iraq in January, amid "improving
security." Some violence continues, however, such as the explosion
Saturday on a key highway bridge linking Iraq to Jordan and Syria.
The U.S. Army brigade, based at Fort Drum, New York, had been scheduled to replace another unit, due to leave Iraq at the start of next year.
Defense Department officials stressed that the decision was based on security improvements and the increasing capabilities of Iraq's own security forces.
Iraq is due to hold parliamentary elections in January, 2010 but ongoing friction between the country's different ethnic and religious communities is a threat to security and political stability in the country.
Sporadic violence, including a suicide bombing attack Saturday on a key bridge linking Iraq with Syria and Jordan, continues to hamper both security and the political process. It was the second time that the same bridge, located near the western city of Ramadi, had been targeted in the past two years.
A businessman in Ramadi complained that the early-morning explosion, which severely damaged the bridge, was intended to cause chaos by disrupting travel, commerce and trade:
He says that the highway, where the bridge was blown up, links Iraq with the outside world, and it has repercussions on transport, stability and the security situation. He said it also means that goods imported from outside the country will be affected.
There were also attacks on Saturday west of Baghdad, just outside of Fallujah, and in the northern city of Mosul.
Professor Khattar Abou Diab, who teaches political science at the University of Paris, says that while the security situation in Iraq has improved, in general, it remains fragile and subject to periodic violence:
He says that the situation in Iraq at the moment is ambiguous with signs of overall improvement but a definite fragility of security in places, as witnessed by recent explosions, including the destruction of the highway bridge (Saturday) and the August 19th explosions in Baghdad. He points out that while Iraq's security no longer requires a massive presence of U.S. and Western troops, much depends on the outcome of elections in January, and the easing of tensions between Kurds and Arabs, Sunnis and Shi'ites, and even within the Shi'ite community itself. U.S. achievements in Iraq, he argues, are fragile and depend on harmony between Iraqis and a halt to infiltration along Iraq's borders.
There are currently 119,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. Under a US-Iraq security pact, signed last November, all U.S. combat troops are due to leave the country by August of 2010. Advisors and training forces are scheduled to leave in 2011.