By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 17, 2009 – Everything is on track for the withdrawal of American troops from the cities of Iraq, Iraqi and coalition officials said this week.
Iraqi security forces are set to assume responsibility for the areas, Iraqi spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said at a June 15 news conference.
“The step of withdrawal of American forces from the city will be a main step in this effort,” he said. “And the Iraqi government is committed to receive all the security responsibility and protect security, protect its citizens and all foreigners who are working and living in Iraq.”
The security forces also will provide protection for embassies, foreign missions and the commercial and cultural missions working in Iraq, he added.
The spokesman also noted the longer-range goal of withdrawal of all American combat forces from Iraq by December 2011. “The Iraqi government affirms that the American forces will complete … the withdrawal of the combat forces at the specific time, and will leave limited numbers from the technicians with our security forces for the purpose of training, and will operate some equipment based on the request of the Iraqi government,” he said.
The United States remains firmly committed to fulfilling the terms of the security agreement, said Army Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, commander of Multinational Force Iraq.
“In accordance with this security agreement, U.S. combat forces will leave the cities on 30 June, and it will be a great day for the Iraqi people,” the general said. The improvements in security and the professionalism of the Iraqi army and police have enabled this step, he added.
The withdrawal includes the city of Mosul and the province of Ninevah. A few months ago, Odierno acknowledged, he had reservations about pulling out of Mosul. Meanwhile, Iraqi security forces have increased their presence in the city.
“We have had very successful operations in Mosul over the last 45 days,” Odierno said. “We have been able to detain several key leaders. I feel much more comfortable now where we’re at in Mosul.”
The flow of foreign fighters into Iraq has decreased significantly, Odierno said. “In fact, for the most part, it’s been just a trickle,” he said, crediting border enforcement inside Iraq and Syrian cooperation. Al-Qaida in Iraq has been degraded significantly, and though the terror group still can launch attacks, it is becoming more difficult, the general said.
“The dark days of previous years are behind us,” he added. “Today, Iraqis are able to lead more normal lives, more children are in schools, restaurants are beginning to open, shops are doing business, and parliament is meeting.”
The numbers of attacks in Iraq has dropped significantly. Military officials said the number of attacks in May was at the lowest level since August 2003. Attacks against civilians, attacks against Iraqi security forces and attacks against coalition forces all are down.
“Across Iraq, attacks remain low as a result of the strong partnership between Iraqi and U.S. security forces, forged in tough fighting during the surge of operations that began in January of 2007,” Odierno said.
Since the U.S.-Iraq security agreement took effect in January, coalition forces have closed or returned 142 bases to Iraq control. “And since last September, we have reduced over 30,000 Multinational Force Iraq troops in all of Iraq,” the general said.
Coalition forces had operated from about 460 bases, and now operate from about 320. “We will continue to reduce those this year,” Odierno said, “and we will continue to reduce both our forces and the number of bases in 2010 and through December of 2011, when we will be completely withdrawn from Iraq.”
“Enablers” such as logistics and aircraft are on track, said Iraqi Defense Minister Abdul Qader Mohammad Jassim al-Mafrji.
“We will have capabilities for helicopter support starting the middle of 2010,” al-Mafrji said. “This will grow gradually, but [we] plan to be able at the end of 2011 to have complete support. The support also needs logistical support, and logistical support is focused greatly on medevac.”