With Iraq toll down, U.S. more optimistic
As 'surge' brigades leave Iraq, military officials hope the improved security will hold.
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Provincial elections to be held late this year may pose a security challenge, she says, adding it would be better to leave those brigades in Iraq longer if possible. General Petraeus believes there will be enough Iraqi and American forces available to monitor any related violence.Skip to next paragraph
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"I would want to minimize the risk in those situations, but that said, I don't think the risk we're taking now is too much," she says.
There have also been previous lulls in violence but US officials are more optimistic that the current progress will stabilize because of a combination of factors including increased Iraqi security forces and moves toward political reconciliation.
As the remaining two brigades leave over the next two months, senior US commanders will engage in a "battlefield calculus" to ensure they manage the drawdown without leaving any one area weak, uniformed officials say.
At the same time, Iraqi security forces, which have grown by as many as 126,000 over the last year, have stepped up, more so perhaps than at any other time. As a result, Iraqi and American forces have gone after Shiite militias in Baghdad and Basra as well as Al Qaeda networks north of Baghdad.
"We've been drawing down ... while at the same time, the trends are still supporting the drawdown," says Col. Steven Boylan, a spokesman for Petraeus. "We've been doing this while sustaining the security situation and having some major operations going on."
As each battalion in a brigade vacates an area, the void is filled by extending US units already on the ground and by deploying Iraqi units that officials say were not up to the task even six months ago. Indeed, US forces attribute some of the drop in their casualties to the increased presence and capabilities of Iraqi forces.
But logistical shortfalls mean US commanders must take a nuanced approach as they draw down, ensuring that enough military police, supply, intelligence, and maintenance personnel stay behind to aid the Iraqis as their own combat forces stand up, say military officials.
The challenge of building up Iraqi logistical or noncombat capabilities is a critical factor as the two countries discuss the contentious issue of US long-term presence.
The budding abilities of the Iraqi security forces have for years taken on a familiar, little-engine-that-could tone as supporters of US policy there trumpet each sign of progress.
But officials say recent operations illustrate genuine improvement. Operations in Sadr City, in which the government of Nouri al-Maliki sent Iraqi forces into the Shiite enclave to rout Shiite militias, put Iraqi capabilities on high-profile display. The same was true for operations in Basra in March, in which the US served more as combat adviser than battlefield partner.