President Obama included this sentence in his State of the Union Address , “I will soon announce a way forward in Iraq that leaves Iraq to its people and responsibly ends this war.”
The LAT explains this cryptic reference, based on leaks that suggest that President Obama will announce next week a 19-month timetable for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. He had campaigned on a pledge of getting out within 16 months of his inauguration, but his military commanders had pressed for 23 months. The withdrawal timetable affects two-thirds of US troops now in Iraq, but it is expected that even after 2010 some 50,000 will remain. The Iraqi military continues to need training, and it cannot always handle difficult situations, needing US teams to come in to their aid. Iraq has no air force to speak of. Its newly ordered aircraft will not arrive until 2013 and it will take years to train the pilots. Iraq’s military will therefore need US-supplied close air support for years to come, and all the support staff required. The new Iraqi military also does occasionally get into fights it cannot finish, and so rapid response teams remain important.
Although the US military hopes that the Iraqi government won’t press the issue, the Status of Forces agreement specifies that all US troops must be out by the end of 2011. The nationalist forces in parliament seem likely to be strengthened in the next election, and I don’t expect Iraq to be eager to extend the US mandate. (The Shiite party most explicitly willing to keep US troops in Iraq is the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, which lost badly in the recent provincial elections.)
With the exception of the air force support personnel, the US will likely be asked to get its other troops out in 2011.
There is a lot of speculation out there as to how the US public will react if Obama modifies his campaign pledge of 16 months. Personally, I don’t think there is a lot passion out there right now for foreign affairs. People have discounted Iraq as a national project and don’t seem invested in it any more, for the most part. They think it was a bad idea. They want out. But I don’t think most of them care about the exact timetable for withdrawal, and certainly not whether it is 16 or 19 months. Whether they mind 50,000 troops staying in Iraq in 2011 will surely depend on things like the casualty rate. How unpredictable that is is obvious from the last two days’ news (see below).
The security situation remains fragile in Iraq. VOA reports, “The U.S. military says four American soldiers were wounded and an interpreter was killed when gunmen attacked a police station in northern Iraq.” VOA adds, “On Monday, the U.S. military said that three American soldiers and an interpreter were killed during combat operations in Iraq’s Diyala province north of Baghdad.”
A Sunni Arab politician who now stands accused of orchestrating attacks on the Green Zone defended himself on Tuesday, saying he had been targeted by the (Shiite) government because of his (Sunni) political positions.
Eight people were injured including two national police members when two roadside bombs detonated targeting a patrol of the national police in Palestine Street in east Baghdad.
Three policemen were injured by a roadside bomb that targeted their patrol in Mansour neighborhood in south Mosul on Monday morning.
T[wo] civilians when gunmen threw a grenade targeting the office of the PUK Party in downtown Mosul city
An Iraqi interpreter was killed and other people were injured including US soldiers when two policemen attacked a police station in West Mosul on Tuesday afternoon. US military confirmed the incident.
Gunmen kidnapped a civilian near a church in downtown Kirkuk city on Monday evening.
A gunman was injured seriously while he was trying to plant a roadside bomb in Hawija town west of Kirkuk city on Monday evening.
Three insurgents were killed when clashes broke out between a joint American and Iraqi forces and insurgents in one of the villages of Mandili town east of Baquba early morning.’
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