US troops to exit Iraq's cities but new role still evolving
In Mosul, the mechanics – and effectiveness – of US supporting role are not yet clear.
Iraqi and US officials agree that Tuesday's withdrawal of American combat forces from Iraqi cities is a historic event. What is less apparent to even military commanders here is how exactly the new arrangements will work.Skip to next paragraph
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Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, already in campaign mode for national elections expected in January, has hailed it as the threshold of a new phase for his country. Iraqi officials have declared a national holiday, and state-run Al Iraqia TV has begun a countdown to the "Day of National Sovereignty."
The overall US troop level (currently about 130,000) in Iraq will begin to gradually decline this fall, and all US combat forces are to leave by the end of next summer.
In Mosul, Iraq's second-biggest and perhaps most volatile city, the provincial governor compared Tuesday, June 30, to the 1920s revolt that ended British occupation.
"June 30 is the first day in the history of the true and complete independence of Iraq," said Atheel al-Najaifi, standing next to US military and state department officials at a press conference for Iraqi journalists on Thursday.
To drive home the point, the top US general in the region displayed a sign reading "Iraqi approved US assistance teams" that will be placed on American military vehicles. He also showed a sign illustrating a military convoy with American vehicles sandwiched between Iraqi escorts.
Maj. Gen. Robert Caslen told the Iraqi reporters that US advisory teams would remain within the city at five bases agreed upon with Iraqi authorities and that the US would continue to help the Iraqi Army and National Police clear roadside bombs as well as run approved reconstruction missions and send out logistical convoys, mostly at night.
A new phase of cooperation
Six years into the war, it has become politically untenable for both Iraq and the US to have American combat troops in the streets. But although the intent of the security agreement is clear, the mechanics of how it will be carried out and how well it will work are much less certain.
At the main US military base on the outskirts of Mosul this past week, US Army Col. Gary Volesky sat down with his National Police and Iraqi Army counterparts to discuss the changes. Far from Baghdad and stripped of politics, it was a candid discussion about where the Iraqi military officials needed help.
"I think there's going to be a lot of incidents, a lot of IEDS [improvised explosive devices] after you leave the city – we can handle it but we're still going to need you," National Police Brig. Gen. Majid Ghadeer Ghazal told Colonel Volesky.