iraq take 1

     WASHINGTON (CN) – The day after four Americans were killed in Baghdad and on the day of another car bombing, Commanding General Ray Odierno of Iraq announced Tuesday that the United States has met its deadline for a troop pullout from Iraq’s cities.

adline for American combat units to be out of all Iraqi cities, and said Iraq is ready. “I feel very comfortable,” he said about the stability of Iraq, his face peering down from a large Pentagon screen onto a small group of reporters, despite widespread worries that the American pullback will ignite violence.
     “Today was an extremely important day for Iraq,” he said, but grew irritated when reporters questioned the extent of the American pullback, undermining the day’s significance.
      Based on a security agreement signed last year between the United States and Iraq, Monday marks the first day that the remaining 130,000 American combat troops in Iraq must be out of all cities, leaving urban security to the Iraqi forces.
     Although the Iraqi government called it National Sovereignty Day, and despite celebrations in the streets of Baghdad, many Iraqis stayed home for fear that the pullback of U.S. troops will insight violence that will perhaps lead to fighting between the Shiite and Sunni populations, two rival Islamic groups.
     On Monday, four Americans were killed in Baghdad, and a car bomb exploded Tuesday. Odierno said there have been grand scale attacks in Iraq within the 10 days leading up to the withdrawal.
     Under the agreement, U.S. forces will continue to secure the Iraqi border and areas outside the cities, and an unknown number of American troops will remain in cities to help Iraqi forces.
     “In order to meet our obligations under the security agreement, some U.S. forces will remain in cities to train, advise, and coordinate with Iraqi security forces,” Odierno said in a released statement. There are also agreed upon procedures if Iraq feels it needs to invite American forces back into cities.
     When Odierno was asked to estimate how many American units remain in the cities, he said the number changes each day and grew irritated when reporters persisted, rolling his eyes on the large screen. “How many times do you want me to say that? I don’t know. It will be inaccurate,” he exclaimed, raising his voice. “It’s significantly lower than what it has been so far,” he assured.
     In an interview, Michael O’Hanlon from the Brookings Institute said the pullback is less stark or absolute than many assume. “We are still in bases just outside city centers. We are still embedded as trainers throughout the country,” he said, “and after all we still have 130,000 troops in the country.”
     The pullout didn’t happen overnight. American troops have been out of the large majority of cities for the past eight months.
     Monday is a marker in the broader withdrawal from Iraq. Over the last eight to nine months, American military presence fell by 35,000 troops, to its current stature at roughly 130,000. By the end of the year, plans are to only have 110,000 to 115,000 troops on the ground, with a drawdown to 50,000 by September of next year and complete withdraw of combat units by the end of 2011.
     Odierno expressed confidence in Iraq’s ability to maintain stability. In May, Iraq saw the fewest incidents of violence since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. “The last six months have gone better than expected,” he said.
     Odierno compared the stability today to what he called “the dark days of 2006,” when sectarian violence was so high, “it was hard to see a way out,” he recalled.
     Odierno said the national police force has grown into a professional force that wouldn’t be affected by sectarian violence, although he admitted that the local police are still susceptible.
     Despite worries of violence, Odierno said a continuing insurgency will likely be small, and expressed hope that the Iraqi forces will be able to handle it as the withdrawal moves forward.
     At the end of the press conference, Odierno apologized, “Sorry I lost my temper a little about the numbers.”

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