BAGHDAD — The U.S. military said Saturday that soldiers will not be barred from using mine-resistant armored vehicles during the daytime in Iraqi cities after Wednesday, a departure from what guidance officers and squad leaders said they received in writing in recent days.
The reported rule banning the use of the hulking vehicles, known as MRAPs, in urban areas raised safety concerns among soldiers.
A Washington Post story published Friday said soldiers were worried that using the smaller, less armored Humvees would leave them more vulnerable to armor-piercing roadside bombs and grenades.
Lt. Col. Brian Maka, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, said in an e-mail Saturday that the information provided by the officers regarding the ban of MRAPs during daylight hours was "absolutely wrong." He said the military would "not exclude using the appropriate force protection measures."
Gen. Ray Odierno, the top commander of U.S. troops in Iraq, has issued a notice to all troops stressing that there will be no blanket restrictions on use of MRAPs, according to spokesman Brig. Gen. Stephen Lanza.
Friday's story quoted a lieutenant in Baghdad whose platoon lost two MRAPs last week in powerful roadside bombings. The lieutenant said he feared the attacks would have killed soldiers if they had been in Humvees.
The Pentagon has spent billions of dollars on MRAPs since 2007. The vehicles are widely credited with the decline of U.S. casualties in Iraq.
Also Saturday, Iraq's prime minister said the full withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from cities and towns was a message that his country was ready to take over its own security, even as he appealed for national unity after a week of attacks left more than 250 people dead.
Both of Iraq's vice presidents joined in the call; one warned Iraqis to stay away from crowded places favored by bombers.
There have been concerns that Iraqi forces will not be able to provide adequate security after U.S. combat troops completely pull out of Baghdad and other urban areas by Tuesday, part of a security agreement that calls for all American troops to leave Iraq by the end of 2011. Under the agreement, which took effect Jan. 1, U.S. troops have taken a secondary role, giving Iraqi forces the lead in operations.
On Saturday, few if any of the 133,000 U.S. troops still in Iraq were visible in its cities, with most already having pulled out of urban centers in recent weeks. They have assembled in large bases outside urban centers and will continue to conduct combat operations in rural areas and near the border.
"We are on the threshold of a new phase that will bolster Iraq's sovereignty," Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said. Tuesday has been declared "Victory Day" by Maliki, and Iraq's ability to provide security without American troops has evolved into the cornerstone of his administration as he prepares for January's elections.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.