The top U.S. commander in Iraq said Monday that the country's "dark days" of violence have passed, and that improved security will allow U.S. combat troops to withdraw from cities as promised by the end of this month.Almost all U.S. marines in Iraq will be out by spring of next year as well (though many are being sent to Afghanistan). Then, per President Obama's order, the rest of combat troops will be out of Iraq by August 31st, 2010. The status of forces agreement worked out with the Bush administration requires all troops to be out by December 31st, 2011, but that could potentially be moved up considerably:
Gen. Ray Odierno had said as recently as March that U.S. troops might stay in restive areas such as the northern city of Mosul if the Iraqi government requested their help. Odierno said Monday that he feels "much more comfortable with the situation in Mosul now."
"The improvements in security have allowed for this moment," he said. "The dark days of the previous years are behind us."
Under the Iraqi-U.S. security pact that went into effect at the beginning of the year, U.S. combat troops are required to be out of the cities by June 30. The agreement does provide some flexibility, allowing for the Iraqi government to request that U.S. combat forces remain in cities beyond the deadline.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and other officials have insisted the June 30 deadline must be respected. Some U.S. servicemembers will stay in cities as advisers, though Odierno declined to say exactly how many.
This is pretty big news (but I haven't seen much commentary on it outside this blog), since it would mean that all U.S. forces would have to be out one month ahead of the time when President Obama had given to withdraw just our combat troops. The cabinet is calling for the vote to be delayed until next January, but that has yet to be approved by the Iraqi parliament which approved a $99 million appropriation to stage the vote.
As the U.S. military continues its slow withdrawal from Iraq, the Iraqi people face a decision that might force those efforts into overdrive.
A referendum scheduled for July 30 would give Iraqis the chance to vote for or against the Iraqi-U.S. security agreement that calls for all American troops to leave Iraq by Dec. 31, 2011.
If the referendum goes ahead as scheduled and Iraqi voters reject the agreement — a likely outcome, observers say — the United States would be obliged to pull out troops one year after the vote, or nearly 1½ years before the deadline set by the pact.
As Xanthippas noted earlier, few Iraqi politicians want to go against this even if they think it would be better for U.S. troops to remain longer and give more time for their security forces to take over (especially with the recent flare-ups in violence). I'm not sure if the timing is right or not, but honestly, I don't think I'll find myself complaining too much if the Iraqis want to kick us out sooner...