Iraqi cities: Could violence bring US forces back?
Key challenges remain, including the discontent of former Sunni insurgents recruited by the US and credited with improving security.
On Tuesday, the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq's cities was more or less complete – a sign that, six years after the troops arrived, Iraq is much safer than at the height of its sectarian violence a few years ago.Skip to next paragraph
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Now, both US and Iraqi commanders say they expect an increase in attacks as insurgents test the new security arrangements in the coming weeks, which raises the question: Is there a threshold of violence beyond which US troops would return?
"You are going to see, as we withdraw, a lot more fighting and violence between Sunni and Shiites," says Col. Pat Lang, former head of the Middle East desk at the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency. "But it would take a lot – a lot – for [President] Obama to be willing to fully reengage, and [Prime Minister Nouri] Maliki isn't really going to want him to anyway. We have to accept the idea that it's over, really; Maliki said it's over, really, and our timetable, out by the end of 2011, is the one we're going to follow."
How US role will be different
"Our incomplete sovereignty and the presence of foreign troops is the most serious legacy" from Saddam Hussein, said Mr. Maliki in a national address to mark "Sovereignty Day" on Tuesday. Later in the day, he said that "the national unity government succeeded." Conspicuously absent was acknowledgement, grateful or otherwise, of the American military's role.
Under the terms of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) the United States signed with Iraq last year, US soldiers will need Iraqi permission to conduct combat patrols and other activities in the cities. Most analysts expect such permissions will be granted when needed.
US commanders said they will stay particularly active in providing attack helicopters and other aerial support to Iraqi forces in the coming months.
Convoys delivering food, ammunition, and fuel to US bases will still be vulnerable to roadside bombs, and major US installations – like the 100-acre embassy compound on the west bank of the Tigris River – could be attacked by mortars or other forms of indirect fire.