Senior U.S. defense officials say there will be no dramatic military changes in Iraq on July 1, after sovereignty is transferred to an Iraqi interim government.
Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, the senior military spokesman for U.S. forces in Iraq, says July 1 will not be a particularly significant date in coalition military operations.
General Kimmitt says the mission will remain the same: working to maintain a safe and secure environment in the country until Iraq's own security forces are fully capable of taking over that responsibility.
He tells reporters that will not happen overnight.
"The character is not going to change dramatically on the 1st day of July militarily the way it is dramatically changing politically on the first day of July," he said. "So it remains our end state [goal] that we depart this nation with fully capable Iraqi security forces responsible for the internal and external security of their nation without the need for a multinational force inside this country. That doesn't happen on the 1st of July. I think all of us understand that it will be some time before those Iraqi security forces can take on the burden and the responsibility. And it will happen differently in different portions of the country."
Some U.S. commanders say there will be greater emphasis placed after July 1 on the training of Iraqi forces. They also suggest coalition forces will adopt a lower-profile in terms of patrols and anti-insurgent operations.
Yet others, including General Kimmitt, note the shifting of security burdens to Iraqi forces will take place at different times in different parts of the country.
"In the quiet areas of the country, it may be that the Iraqi security forces take over that responsibility much quicker, and the coalition forces go from being the lead, as they were, to working side by side, as they will be, to a point where they have actually pulled out," said General Kimmitt.
General Kimmitt says that as the shift takes place, U.S. forces will act less like policemen on constant street patrol and more like firemen, waiting in a firehouse until called upon to respond to an emergency.
"It's sort of like the notion of being a policeman, to being a fireman, to where they will no longer be walking up and down those streets every day, but they'll be outside the city sitting in their fire stations, ready to be in called in in emergency, but as and when the Iraqi security forces call them," he said. "And that will happen at different times around this country."
U.S. commanders say that after transferring control in locality after locality around Iraq, they will ultimately cede security responsibilities on a regional basis. Ultimately, U.S. forces will pull out of the country altogether unless they are invited to stay on by Iraqi authorities, perhaps operating from a bases or bases like those retained by the United States for years in various locations in Europe and Asia. They stress, however, that at the present there are no plans for permanent American bases in Iraq.
In the meantime, defense officials say there will be no immediate cutbacks in the approximately 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. They also promise close consultation and cooperation with Iraqi authorities on all operations after July 1. But they sidestep questions about whether Iraq's interim leaders will have any veto power over possible future military strike missions.