Irak — Iraqi Security Forces Keep U.S. Drawdown on Track

WASHINGTON, April 19, 2010 — Iraqi forces are doing a good job in main­tain­ing secu­ri­ty in the coun­try, and the Amer­i­can with­draw­al can pro­ceed as planned, the com­man­der of U.S. forces in Iraq said yes­ter­day.

Army Gen. Ray­mond T. Odier­no said on “Fox News Sun­day” that he expects it will take a cou­ple of months for the Iraqis to form a gov­ern­ment based on the results of the March 7 elec­tion. In that elec­tion, the bloc head­ed by for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Ayad Allawi earned two more par­lia­ment seats than the bloc led by cur­rent Prime Min­is­ter Nouri al-Mali­ki. Odier­no said he does not expect a return to sec­tar­i­an vio­lence in the coun­try, and that all lead­ers under­stand that any new gov­ern­ment “must include all major blocs in the gov­ern­ment.”

“And we think that’s very impor­tant as we move for­ward, … that they don’t alien­ate any of the blocs, be it Sun­ni or Shi­ia or Kurd,” he said.

Mean­while, Odier­no said, Amer­i­can forces are assist­ing and advis­ing Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces and will con­tin­ue to do so. Amer­i­can forces are tran­si­tion­ing to sta­bil­i­ty oper­a­tions, and the last U.S. com­bat out­fit will leave the coun­try by the end of August.

This means U.S. ser­vice­mem­bers will con­tin­ue to assist and advise Iraqi secu­ri­ty forces and will con­tin­ue to pro­vide sup­port to provin­cial recon­struc­tion teams, Unit­ed Nations orga­ni­za­tions and “will still con­duct part­nered coun­tert­er­ror­ism oper­a­tions with the Iraqis,” the gen­er­al said.

Al-Qai­da in Iraq con­tin­ues to be degrad­ed. In the first three months of fis­cal 2010, Iraq expe­ri­enced the low­est num­ber of attacks since U.S. forces moved into the coun­try, Odier­no not­ed. “[Al-Qai­da] is still capa­ble of launch­ing attacks on inno­cent civil­ians, but Iraqis have reject­ed the ide­ol­o­gy of al-Qai­da,” he said. “They have reject­ed al-Qai­da as a whole.”

The Iraqi gov­ern­ment has devel­oped its own capa­bil­i­ties to go after the ter­ror group. After Odier­no appeared on the pro­gram, Iraqi lead­ers announced that secu­ri­ty forces had killed al-Qaida’s leader in Iraq, Abu Ayyub al-Mas­ri, ear­li­er in the day. Mali­ki also said the Iraqi team had also killed Abu Omar al-Bagh­da­di, the pur­port­ed leader of al-Qaida’s local affil­i­ate, the Islam­ic State of Iraq. U.S. offi­cials today con­firmed the deaths of the ter­ror­ist lead­ers.

Some 95,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq today, and Odier­no said the Amer­i­can pres­ence in the coun­try will decrease to 50,000 in late sum­mer. “Our plans are intact and I feel very com­fort­able with our plan,” he said, “and unless some­thing unfore­seen and dis­as­trous hap­pens, I ful­ly expect us to be at 50,000 by the first of Sep­tem­ber.”

No U.S. move is afoot to rene­go­ti­ate the agree­ment with Iraq to have all Amer­i­can troops out of the coun­try by the end of 2011, Odier­no said.

“If the gov­ern­ment of Iraq thinks it would be to their advan­tage to ask us to stay longer than that, then we’ll see,” he said. “Then we’ll have to have a dis­cus­sion in the Unit­ed States. But that [pos­si­ble request for an extend­ed stay of U.S. troops in Iraq] will be up to the new Iraqi gov­ern­ment.”

Iran still is pro­vid­ing sup­plies and train­ing to groups that want to cause insta­bil­i­ty in Iraq, the gen­er­al said. But although lead­ers in Tehran are try­ing to increase their influ­ence in Iraq, the Iraqis are nation­al­ists, he added.

“They will reject unwant­ed Iran­ian influ­ence,” he said. “They want to have good rela­tions with all their neigh­bors, but they will not tol­er­ate malign influ­ence inside of Iraq.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)