After the so-called "withdrawal" of U.S. combat forces from Iraq, the U.S. will continue to "conduct combat operations" and consider Iraq a "war zone," a Pentagon spokesman said Wednesday, as details of President Obama's plans for Iraq began to grow clearer, AP reported.[1]  --  Obama will announce his withdrawal strategy in a Friday speech at the Marine Corps's Camp Lejeune in Jacksonsville, NC, Reuters said on Wednesday.  --  Responses to the developments from Iraqi political leaders made it clear that they, facing parliamentary elections this year, are eager to welcome the faux pullout with a faux celebration of their own.  --  Sadiq al-Rikabi, one of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's top advisers, said that "Iraqi troops are ready to take responsibility.  There is nothing to worry about and the withdrawal will be carried out in coordination between the two sides."[3] ...


By Anne Gearan

** Pentagon says Iraq will still be war zone after US pullout, some forces will remain **

Associated Press
February 25, 2009

Some of the U.S. forces left in Iraq after President Barack Obama fulfills his pledge to withdraw combat troops will engage in operations against suspected terrorists, the Pentagon said Wednesday.

Obama plans to announce his withdrawal strategy as early as Friday. He is expected to choose a compromise 19-month withdrawal plan that leaves behind as many as 50,000 troops for cleanup and protection operations.

Although most of the fighting forces would be withdrawn within 18 months, some of those units could be in Iraq for years to come. A prior agreement forged by the Bush administration with Iraqi officials requires removal of all U.S. forces by 2012.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said that a holdover, or "residual," force would number in the tens of thousands. His spokesman said Wednesday that those troops would have three primary functions: Training and helping Iraqi forces; protecting Americans and U.S. assets in Iraq, and limited counterterrorism operations in which Iraqi forces would take the lead.

"I think a limited number of those that remain will conduct combat operations against terrorists, assisting Iraqi security forces," Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said. "By and large you're talking about people who we would classify as enablers, support troops."

Obama campaigned on ending the Iraq war, and pledged to do so in 16 months. The withdrawal timetable he is expected to approve would stretch over 19 months, counting from Inauguration Day. That means more than 100,000 troops would leave over the coming 18 months.

The pullout would free up troops and resources for the war in Afghanistan, where Obama has said the threat to national security remains high.

"We are now carefully reviewing our policies in both wars, and I will soon announce a way forward in Iraq that leaves Iraq to its people and responsibly ends this war," Obama said in his address to Congress on Tuesday.

Gates, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen and others were expected to meet with Obama at the White House on Wednesday.

"The president has not made a final decision about our force structure in Iraq going forward," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters at the briefing Wednesday. "I don't think it would be a surprise, though, to anybody in this room that the president since his first full day in office has been working toward a solution that would responsibly draw down our troops in Iraq."

Morrell said he anticipates an announcement this week.

The role and makeup of residual forces has been unclear throughout last year's negotiations between the United States and Iraq, and during Obama's planning for an exit strategy.

Plans became only slightly clearer Wednesday. Morrell said many troops would be long-term advisers in such areas as intelligence, or would help the Iraqi military fill in gaps in equipment such as helicopters.

Although he said Iraq would still be considered a "war zone," Morrell said most would not do anything that resembles fighting.

"But just because these troops would carry a sidearm, as all U.S. troops do in theater, that should not be confused with them having a combat mission," Morrell said.

"For example, U.S. personnel assigned to the Ministry of Finance may have a sidearm, but I doubt they'd consider themselves a combat force, and certainly wouldn't be equipped in that fashion to perform combat operations."



February 25, 2009

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama will deliver an address Friday on "the way forward" in Iraq, officials said, in which he is widely expected to announce steps to begin pulling U.S. combat troops out of Iraq.

"We're keeping a campaign commitment," Vice President Joe Biden told NBC television in an interview Wednesday when asked the substance of Obama's address at Camp Lejeune, a Marine Corps base in North Carolina.

"I think the American public will . . . understand exactly what we're doing and I think they'll be pleased," Biden said.

Obama pledged during his presidential campaign to withdraw all U.S. combat troops from the unpopular and costly war in Iraq within 16 months of taking office, although officials said Tuesday he was now considering a 19-month timeline.

Pentagon officials said about 40,000 troops involved in training and mentoring Iraqi security forces were expected to remain through the end of 2011, when all U.S. forces are due to leave under a deal signed between the United States and Iraq.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told MSNBC some U.S. forces will need to stay in Iraq, but it should a smaller contingent.

When asked whether Obama would keep as many as 50,000 troops in Iraq, Pelosi said, "I would think a third of that, maybe 20,000, a little more than a third, 15,000 or 20,000.

"We have to see what the purpose is, how it fits the mission of our national security, and why that number is important," Pelosi said. "He (Obama) hasn't said it yet, so I would love to see what he has to say."

The White House said in a statement Wednesday that Obama would deliver an address at Camp Lejeune, but gave no details. Spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters the president had not made a final decision on a withdrawal timetable.

Obama told Americans in an address to Congress Tuesday he would soon announce "a way forward in Iraq that leaves Iraq to its people and responsibly ends this war."

On his first full day in office, Obama, who was sworn in on Jan. 20, instructed the military's top leadership to begin planning for a drawdown of U.S. forces.

The United States has some 140,000 troops in Iraq. Since the start of the war, 4,250 soldiers have lost their lives.

Obama has said he wants to switch the U.S. military focus from Iraq to Afghanistan, where he has ordered 17,000 fresh troops to help NATO-led forces battle a sharp surge in violence by Taliban and al Qaeda militants.

(Editing by Peter Cooney)


By Qassim Abdul-Zahra

** Iraq welcomes reports of U.S. forces leaving the battlefield by next year **

Associated Press
February 25, 2009

Iraq's government welcomed reports Wednesday of a U.S. combat troop withdrawal next year and said Iraqi forces would be ready to take full responsibility for security.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki supports an accelerated pullout and Iraqi officials will work closely with American commanders under a possible timetable to remove U.S. soldiers from the battlefield by August 2010, said Sadiq al-Rikabi, one of al-Maliki's top advisers.

The comments come after reports that President Barack Obama was expected to order all U.S. combat troops to leave Iraq by August of next year. An announcement by Obama could come as early as this week, a senior White House official told the Associated Press on Tuesday.

Al-Rikabi said al-Maliki expressed "no worry" about U.S. forces moving out quicker than the standing agreement for a withdrawal by the end of 2011.

"The Iraqi troops are ready to take responsibility. There is nothing to worry about and the withdrawal will be carried out in coordination between the two sides," he said.

Obama's announcement will speed up the timeline of a U.S.-Iraqi security pact, which took effect Jan. 1, calling for American troops to withdraw from Iraq's cities by June 30 and completely pull out troops by the end of 2011.

For months, al-Maliki has publicly said he believes Iraq's security forces are prepared to stand on their own despite lingering questions about their readiness.

But the withdrawal of combat troops under Obama's plan would still have U.S. troops in Iraq well after parliamentary elections this year, which military officials have said is one of the next big security tests. There are more than 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.

Reaction among Iraqis was mixed.

"I have no trust with Iraqi security forces that they could keep security because army and security forces were built on a sectarian basis," sad Thabit Mohammed Jassim, a 40-year-old Sunni shop owner in Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown.

Jassim said he believed violence would likely climb after American combat troops leave Iraq.

"Obama wants to withdraw not for Iraqis, but because of economic problems they face internally and of hardships his troops are facing in Iraq," he said.

But Hussein Jassim Mohammed, a 35-year-old Shiite from Baghdad, said he would like to see U.S. troops leave sooner rather than later.

"We hope the withdrawal will take place sooner, before the given timetable," he said, adding that it was "a good step for Iraqis to secure" their own country.

Mohammed said there were some who worried about an increase in violence, but said it was time for "security forces to live up to their responsibility."

But in Mosul, where U.S. and Iraqi forces continue to battle insurgents, Ziyad al-Sinjari, a 35-year-old Sunni, was less optimistic about the stability of the Iraqi security forces.

"The new Iraqi army lacks experts. It needs the expertise of former Iraqi military officers," said al-Sinjari, who works at Mosul University. "I hope the withdrawal will be soon, so militants have no pretext of launching attacks against Americans in cities and hurting (civilians)."

In Najaf, a Shiite shrine city in southern Iraq, Ibrahim Ihsan said he wants to see foreign forces leave Iraq.

"I have no doubts that Iraqi soldiers are qualified to shoulder the security responsibilities in the country," said the 55-year-old retiree.