5 US soldiers killed in Iraq. What does it mean for the withdrawal?
The attack, the deadliest on US troops in Iraq in more than two years, comes months before US forces are slated to exit. The Pentagon has signaled time is short for Iraq to request that troops remain.
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Mr. Kahl emphasized, too, that terrorists and militias continue to pose a threat throughout the country. In mid-May, three coordinated car bombs killed more than two dozen people in the oil-rich northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, and at the end of May, Al Qaeda conducted a series of attacks in Baghdad that left 14 people dead and dozens wounded, Kahl said in testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia on June 1.Skip to next paragraph
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The Pentagon has signaled frequently in recent months that if Iraq decides that it wants US troops to stay beyond the 2011 deadline, they must make the request soon “should there be any chance of avoiding irrevocable logistics and operational decisions we must make in the coming weeks,” Mullen said during his April visit to Iraq. “Time is running short for any negotiations to occur.”
But Mr. Gates acknowledged last month the political difficulties that come with Iraqi leaders requesting an extended US troop presence in the country. “We have to realize that it is a political challenge for the Iraqis because, whether we like it or not, we’re not very popular there” – particularly among the followers of anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, he added. “The Sadirists clearly want us out.”
Some defense analysts are wondering whether the attacks Monday that appear to have been launched out of eastern Baghdad in the neighborhood of Sadr City – a Shiite-controlled stronghold once notorious for its anti-US forces militias – could be an effort to dissuade the Iraqi government from asking US forces to stay.
It could, additionally, be a brutal public relations move, analysts point out – a bid by supporters of al-Sadr to claim credit for chasing the Americans out of the country.
“At the micro level, I think it’s like the Mafia – there are all kinds of 17-year-old Sadrists who are trying to make their bones before US troops leave Iraq,” says Douglas Ollivant, former director for Iraq at the National Security Council under the Bush and Obama administrations and senior fellow with the New America Foundation. “At the macro level, the Sadrists know we’re leaving and they are trying to claim credit for our departure.”
Pentagon officials continue to stress that whether US troops remain in Iraq beyond 2011 or not, continued US engagement with Iraq remains vital. “We are now at the point where the strategic dividends of our tremendous sacrifices and huge investments in Iraq are within reach as long as we take the proper steps to consolidate them,” Kahl said.
What remains to be seen is what, precisely, those proper steps will be.