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Jun 29th, 2009

U.S. Ready to Leave Iraqi Cities Despite Violence


Iraqi troops prepare to stand alone (NBC Nightly News, June 28, 2009) – After six years in Iraq, American forces are drastically reshaping their posture — the first step towards bringing all combat forces home in 2011. (02:23)

June 28, 2009

BAGHDAD — Death squads roamed the streets, slaughtering members of the rival Muslim sect. Bombs rocked Baghdad daily — until thousands of U.S. troops poured in two years ago, establishing neighborhood bases and taking control of the Iraqi capital and other cities.

By Tuesday, all but a small number of American soldiers will have left Baghdad and other urban areas, handing over security to Iraqi soldiers and police still largely untested as an independent fighting force.

State television has been showing a countdown clock with a fluttering Iraqi flag and the words “June 30: National Sovereignty Day.”

If the Iraqis can hold down violence, it will show the country is finally on the road to stability. If they fail, Iraq faces new bloodshed, straining a nation still divided along sectarian and ethnic lines.

The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. Ray Odierno, said he was confident it was the right time for the move. …

‘They haven’t accomplished the task’

Privately, many U.S. officers worry the Iraqis will be overwhelmed if violence surges, having relied for years on the U.S. for everything from firepower to bottled water.

Many Iraqis also fear more violence after a spike in bombings and shootings last week that killed more than 250 people. U.S. and Iraqi officials have warned they expect more violence as insurgents try to stage a show of force in the days surrounding the withdrawal.

“The Americans are pulling out, but they haven’t accomplished the task that they came for, which is defeating terrorism,” said Miriwan Kerim, a 32-year-old watch peddler in Kirkuk. “The security situation is still fragile so the withdrawal will not restore us to square one but to square zero.”

President Barack Obama insists there’s no turning back. Handing over control of the cities brings him one step closer to fulfilling his campaign pledge to end an unpopular war that has claimed the lives of more than 4,300 U.S. troops and tens of thousands of Iraqis.

Despite public unease, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki appears eager to see the Americans leave and has urged Iraqis to hold steady against continued violence. Ahead of national elections next year, al-Maliki is portraying himself as the leader who defeated terrorism and ended the U.S. occupation.

He has declared June 30 a national holiday, telling a national television audience Saturday that the U.S. departure will “bolster Iraq’s security” and show the world that Iraqis can manage their own affairs.

Many Iraqis are also eager for the U.S. occupation to end, although more than 130,000 American troops remain in the country.

“It is good to see the departure of American troops as the first phase of ending the foreign occupation of our country,” said Ibrahim Ali, 26, a teacher from Kut. “Our troops are able to protect Iraqi cities, but they need more training and naval and air support.”

Others fear the security forces, especially the police, are still under the influence of Shiite militants and will not enforce the law evenhandedly.

Haggling over numbers and locations

The withdrawal, required under the U.S.-Iraqi security pact that took effect this year, marks the first major step toward withdrawing all American forces from the country by Dec. 31, 2011. Obama has said all combat troops will be gone by the end of August 2010.

American soldiers will remain in the cities to train and advise Iraqi forces as well as protect U.S. diplomatic missions and provincial reconstruction teams. With only hours to go, U.S. and Iraqi officials were still haggling over numbers and locations.

Combat operations will continue in rural areas but only with permission of the Iraqi government. U.S. troops will return to the cities only if asked.

The absence of tens of thousands of American troops who once lived, fought and patrolled the streets of Baghdad and other cities will be a major challenge for Iraqi forces.

With the deadline approaching, U.S. troops have been packing up their gear and moving to bases outside the cities, such as the giant Camp Victory complex on the western edge of Baghdad or Forward Operating Base Marez on the outskirts of Mosul. …

Not a single U.S. soldier could be seen on the streets in many Sunni and Shiite neighborhoods.

U.S. focus is on training

That was a far cry from the early years of the U.S. mission, when heavily armed U.S. soldiers, tanks and other armored vehicles rumbled through the streets bearing signs warning Iraqis they could be shot if they came too close.

The withdrawal from the cities marks an end to the U.S. troop surge strategy of 2007, when the U.S. rushed thousands of reinforcements to Iraq to stem fighting between Sunnis and Shiites.

Before the surge, the U.S. tried moving troops out of the cities, handing over security to the Iraqis. American units would patrol Baghdad by day and return to bases outside the city at night, leaving control of the streets to death squads and militias.

The surge changed all that. U.S. soldiers moved out of giant bases and into former schools, clinics and police stations where they lived and worked round-the-clock with their Iraqi partners.

Now, the focus of the U.S. effort will be training and mentoring. …

U.S. commanders to keep low profile

U.S. commanders plan to assume a low public profile for the first two weeks of July to avoid any perception they’re not honoring the agreement.

Most convoys will travel at night — even for the short distance between Camp Victory and Baghdad’s protected Green Zone. They will also travel with Iraqi escorts to show they are not operating unilaterally.

In Mosul, U.S. vehicles must be marked with signs to show they are noncombat forces. …


Late update

Fireworks Over Baghdad as U.S. Troops Leave

Fireworks light up the night sky above Baghdad on Monday, June 29, 2009. U.S. troops are leaving Iraqi cities in the first step toward winding down the American war effort by the end of 2011. (Photo credit: Khalid Mohammed / AP)

June 29, 2009

BAGHDAD — Iraqi forces assumed formal control of Baghdad and other cities Tuesday after American troops handed over security in urban areas in a defining step toward ending the U.S. combat role in the country. A countdown clock broadcast on Iraqi TV ticked to zero as the midnight deadline passed for U.S. combat troops to finish their pullback to bases outside cities.

“The withdrawal of American troops is completed now from all cities after everything they sacrificed for the sake of security,” said Sadiq al-Rikabi, a senior adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. “We are now celebrating the restoration of sovereignty.” …

Fireworks, not bombings, colored the Baghdad skyline late Monday, and thousands attended a party in a park where singers performed patriotic songs. Loudspeakers at police stations and military checkpoints played recordings of similar tunes throughout the day, as Iraqi military vehicles decorated with flowers and national flags patrolled the capital.

“All of us are happy — Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds on this day,” Waleed al-Bahadili said as he celebrated at the park. “The Americans harmed and insulted us too much.” …

The U.S. has not said how many troops will be in the cities in advisory roles, but the vast majority of the more than 130,000 U.S. forces remaining in the country will be in large bases scattered outside cities.

There have been some worries that the 650,000-member Iraqi military is not ready to maintain stability and deal with a stubborn insurgency.

Privately, many U.S. officers worry the Iraqis will be overwhelmed if violence surges, having relied for years on the Americans for nearly everything.

“We think they are ready,” U.S. Ambassador Christopher Hill told The Associated Press in an interview Monday. He said his main concern was that a lack of progress in efforts to reconcile Shiite, Sunnis and Kurds was feeding the violence that still marks the daily lives of many Iraqis.

The commander of U.S. troops in the Middle East, Gen. David Petraeus, expressed concern about the spate of high-profile bombings but said the average daily number of attacks remained low at 10 to 15 compared with 160 in June 2007. …

Image: U.S. soldier
Ahmad al-Rubaye / AFP — Getty Images
A U.S. soldier leans his head on his rifle as he sits in the back of an armored vehicle prior to going out on a last patrol Monday, June 29, 2009.

Al-Maliki appears eager to see troops go

Despite some concerns, al-Maliki appears eager to see the Americans leave and has urged Iraqis to hold steady against any rise in violence. Ahead of national elections next year, al-Maliki is portraying himself as the leader who defeated terrorism and ended the U.S. occupation. …

While the U.S. troop surge strategy was successful in stemming the bloodshed, many Iraqis also saw it as an affront to their national pride.

On a visit to Ramadi, a Sunni city 70 miles west of the capital, Interior Minister Jawad al-Bolani, a Shiite, told the AP that when the sun rises on Tuesday “Iraqi citizens will see no U.S. soldiers in their cities. They will see only Iraqi troops protecting them.”

2 Responses to “U.S. Forces Pull Back in Iraq”
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