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US Commander: Troop Drawdown in Iraq on Track

The commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, Army General Ray Odierno, is in Washington as the Department of Defense and State Department host a conference about the transition from a military-led to a civilian-led operation in Iraq.

General Ray Odierno says the United States is keeping to President Barack Obama's directive to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Iraq to 50,000 by September 1.

At that point, the name of the mission will change from Operation Iraqi Freedom to Operation New Dawn, formally signifying the change from combat operations to stability operations.

Odierno says U.S. troops largely transitioned away from a combat role four or five months ago.

"My definition of combat patrol is you are going out for a very specific mission to go after a very specific target or to go and influence some sort of an operation that is ongoing inside the country. We do not do those. What we do do is we have advisors that go with Iraqi security force units that go out or we have logistics patrols that are out there to provide and support our forces," he said.

Odierno said the majority of U.S. forces are embedded inside of Iraqi security forces as advisors only. The general offered praise to the Iraqi security forces for their work.

Politically, Iraq remains at an impasse. No political group won enough seats in the March parliamentary elections to form a majority, and politicians have yet to form a coalition government.

Despite that delay, General Odierno says he has not asked for a delay in the drawdown. He said Iraqi security forces are capable of providing the necessary level of security, and 50,000 U.S. troops can provide a great deal of capability. He also said it is important for the United States to abide by its commitment to drawdown.

"It is important to them [the Iraqi people] that they see that there is progress being made. We are recognizing that progress. "And that they see that the U.S. is true to their word, and I think that's important," Odierno said. "We noticed that on 30 June 2009 - I learned this lesson - when we came out of the cities. Most people did not think we would really come out of the cities, but when we did it made a real difference psychologically on the ground."

General Odierno said the political stalemate has caused uneasiness among the Iraqi people, but it has not led to a degradation in security or stability. He said said he would be concerned if a government is not formed by October, and he hopes one is formed by August.

Former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi said earlier this month that political negotiations are in the final stages and the country's leaders are hoping to form a new government next month.

U.S. forces are set to leave Iraq by the end of next year.