U.S. combat troops to leave all Iraqi cities
SAMARRA, Iraq |
SAMARRA, Iraq (Reuters) - U.S. combat forces will vacate all Iraqi cities on schedule by the end of this month, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq said Tuesday, including the still violent insurgent holdout of Mosul.
U.S. combat troops are scheduled to leave Iraq's towns and cities by June 30 and redeploy to bases outside, according to a security pact that took effect in January.
Some U.S. and Iraqi officials had suggested this might have to be delayed in the case of Mosul, where al Qaeda and other insurgent groups still carry out frequent attacks.
Asked whether U.S. combat forces were on track for a total pullout from all cities, including Mosul, army General Ray Odierno said. "We are. We have done a joint assessment ... We have finalized that."
"We will come out of the cities. We will provide some trainers and advisers, LNOs (liaison officers) ... inside of Mosul ... but that'll be it," he said in an interview.
Odierno had previously not ruled out staying on in Mosul if the Iraqi government requested help to fight insurgents.
"We've made some good progress up there in the last several months. I feel much better about where we're at in terms of security in Mosul ... We'll be able to turn it over," he said.
TIME TO MOVE OUT
Odierno was speaking to Reuters on a trip to the city of Samarra, where the bombing of one of Shi'ite Islam's holiest shrines in February 2006 led to a wave of tit-for-tat sectarian slaughter that nearly tipped Iraq into civil war.
That attack was blamed on al Qaeda. Odierno said bombings in Shi'ite parts of Baghdad in April this year were carried out by al Qaeda militants trying to rekindle sectarian violence.
He said that since 2006, Iraqi security forces had made huge leaps in the size of their forces, and better training and equipment, but U.S. forces would remain in Iraq in an advisory role until the end of 2011, the withdrawal date agreed with Baghdad in the bilateral security pact.
"I think it's time for us to move out of the cities, I think it's important that people understand we are going to abide by the agreement that we've signed," he said.
Al Qaeda regrouped in Mosul and surrounding Nineveh province after losing former strongholds in Baghdad and western Iraq. Odierno said defeating the insurgency in Mosul depended on the new provincial government acting quickly to provide basic services.
"This is not about winning a war. It's about creating an environment where the Iraqi government can be ... serving its people ... this is about the long term development of a nation."
Odierno said two major threats were tension between Kurds and Arabs over control of land and oil, and Iran's backing for Shi'ite militias in the south. He said Iran was still training, funding and supplying weapons to militias with a view to forcing U.S. troops out of Iraq early. Tehran has denied this.
U.S. combat forces will leave Iraq by August 2010 under President Barack Obama's plan. Odierno said about 50,000 troops would stay on to train and advise only until the 2011 deadline.
"You'll never know until you leave. As long as we're here, we can't say they're standing on their own two feet," he said.
(Editing by Andrew Dobbie)
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