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Iraq pullout: Some US soldiers likely to stay behind in Mosul

As US prepares to withdraw troops from major cities, bombings in Baghdad and near Kirkuk have the country on edge.

By Jane ArrafCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / June 22, 2009

Iraqi and US soldiers conduct a joint patrol in Mosul on Friday.

Saad Shalash/Reuters

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Mosul, Iraq

American soldiers who had been expected to withdraw from their bases within Mosul by the June 30 deadline might be allowed to stay under an agreement being finalized with the Iraqi government, United States officials say.

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"We're waiting for a final decision, and we're prepared to execute whatever they tell us to execute," says Col. Gary Volesky, commander of the 1st Cavalry Division's 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team.

Although levels of violence have declined dramatically in the past year, attacks have escalated ahead of next week's withdrawal of US troops from major cities here. Dozens were killed after a massive attack Saturday near Kirkuk. On Monday, a series of bombings killed at least 13 people in the Baghdad area.

Despite the attacks, the movement of US forces out of the cities continues. Colonel Volesky, in charge of US forces in the volatile city of Mosul, said his brigade had just turned over to Iraqi forces two of its biggest remaining combat outposts and was waiting to see whether it would be instructed to do the same with the others within the city.

"We just turned in two of the eight that we have so we're on a glide path – we've got plans to shut them all if required," he says.

"Broad agreement has been reached on the post-coalition presence in the city," says another US official who asked to remain anonymous because Iraqi authorities have not yet announced the pact.

A small US presence will continue to advise

The Iraqi government has said some US forces would be allowed to remain in an advisory capacity within the cities after June 30, when the security agreement painfully negotiated by the US and Iraq mandates the withdrawal of all American combat troops from cities and towns.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's pointed insistence that there would be no exemption for US troops in Mosul has led to the widespread belief that the US would have to withdraw its remaining soldiers from inside the city, where they have been conducting joint operations with Iraqi security forces against an ongoing insurgency.

The combat outposts, which are expected to be turned into joint security stations with additional Iraqi Army and police officers, have been a key element in the counterinsurgency strategy of staying in a neighborhood to protect residents while they rebuild. The US soldiers at the joint security stations will continue to assist and advise Iraqi forces.

Gen. Ray Odierno, the top US commander in Iraq, said in an interview in April that he believed the US shouldn't make the mistake in Mosul that it had in the past: of pulling out of cities and neighborhoods too soon and allowing insurgents to regain a foothold.

Massive attack in Kirkuk

Officials said a huge truck bomb that detonated near Kirkuk on Saturday, killing at least 75 people and wounding more than 250, had the hallmarks of an Al Qaeda attack. The truck detonated outside a Shiite mosque in Taza after midday prayers, collapsing surrounding homes and burying people in the rubble.

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