WASHINGTON: American combat troops are on pace to leave Iraqi cities by the June 30 deadline stipulated by the U.S.-Iraq security agreement, U.S. officials in Baghdad said yesterday.
Army Brig. Gen. Keith Walker, commander of the Iraq Assistance Group, said in a news conference that security throughout the country has continued to improve.
The security agreement calls for all coalition combat forces to be out of the cities by the end of the month. “We will adhere to the security agreement,” General Walker said. “So, all combat forces will be out of the cities unless there is a specific invitation from the government of Iraq.”
U.S. forces will be available in advisory roles and to provide enabler capabilities, the general said.
In 2007, there was an average of 900 attacks per week. In 2008, that number dropped to 200 attacks per week. In 22 of the 26 weeks this year, fewer than 100 attacks have taken place per week nationwide, General Walker said.
This improvement in security happened as the number of U.S. forces in Iraq declined by more than 20 percent from the height of the surge. “We have returned over 100 bases to Iraq since October,” the general said. “The provisions of the security agreement make our partnership with Iraqi forces that much more important.”
Today, Iraqi security forces conduct all operations. Coalition forces participate only with Iraqi concurrence. The coalition-Iraqi partnership “is characterized by combined planning, preparation and execution with Iraqi security forces in the lead,” he said. “It is enabled by a close working relationship and the collocation of partnership units and transition teams.”
The partnership’s coalition units help the Iraqi units with enablers, logistics and to ensure situational awareness between Iraqi forces and coalition forces.
Coalition transition units are now shifting attention to beefing up Iraqi command and control capabilities, sustainment and enabler units. “We have reached the point where partnership units are the core of what Multinational Corps Iraq does,” General Walker said.
The corps will take over the partnership chores from the Iraq Assistance Group. “It no longer makes sense to have two organizations doing the same thing,” General Walker said, so the mission of the group is folding into the corps.
Multinational Corps Iraq will handle the military and police transition teams and training for Iraqi forces in addition to operational responsibilities. The Iraqi Assistance Group will case its colors June 3.
Even once the U.S. units move out of the cities, they will remain associated with their Iraqi partners, General Walker said. “They’ll have to drive a bit more, but they will be available,” he said.
The security agreement covers the entire country, so coalition forces will move out of areas such as Mosul, which have been fairly hot in the past months, the general said.
More than 600,000 Iraqis serve in the country’s security forces.