How the U.S. pullout from Iraq is likely to proceed

BAGHDAD — The U.S. military map in Iraq in early 2010: Marines are leaving the western desert, Army units are in the former British zone in the south, and the overall mission is coalescing around air and logistics hubs in central and northern Iraq.

Meanwhile, commanders will be shifting their attention to helping Iraqi forces take full control of their own security.

The Pentagon has not released the full details of President Obama's plan to end America's combat role in Iraq by Aug. 31 of next year, but the broad contours are taking shape.

Statements from military officials, U.S. government reports and interviews with Iraqi and U.S. planners offer a wide-angle view of the expected American formation in Iraq when the pullout quickens early next year.

Between 35,000 and 50,000 soldiers are expected to remain in a transition period before all troops must leave by the end of 2011 under a joint pact. In his speech Friday, Obama outlined the roles ahead.

"Training, equipping, and advising Iraqi security forces as long as they remain nonsectarian; conducting targeted counterterrorism missions, and protecting our ongoing civilian and military efforts within Iraq," he said.

There should be little immediate change in the American presence in 2009. The bulk of the current 138,000 U.S. troops are expected to remain until Iraq's national elections scheduled for late this year. Maintaining security for the balloting is considered a top priority by the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. Ray Odierno, and other high-ranking Pentagon officials.

Then the pullout will accelerate.

Anbar exodus

The first significant shift could be with the 22,000 Marines in Anbar province, a broad wedge of western desert where insurgents once held sway over key cities such as Fallujah and Ramadi.

The Marines have already tested exit routes through Jordan with plans for a full-scale exodus during the "2010 calendar year," said Terry Moores, deputy assistant chief of staff for logistics for Marine Corps Central Command.

The Marines could possibly leave a small contingent, but expect to turn over military duties to the Army.

The early exit from Anbar is part of Washington's shift of military focus to Afghanistan. Anbar also represents a critical turning point of the nearly six-year-old Iraq war. A U.S.-directed effort in late 2006 began to recruit and fund tribal leaders to join the fight against al-Qaida in Iraq and other insurgent groups — which were eventually uprooted in Anbar and began to lose their hold in and around Baghdad.

In the south

In the south, the Army is making plans to fill the void left by the departure this spring of 4,000 British troops based outside Basra, the second-largest city in Iraq and a hub of the nation's southern oil fields.

Odierno has said a division headquarters — about 1,000 personnel — plus an undetermined number of troops would be sent to Basra. The transition is expected to begin in late March.

During a tour of Basra on Friday, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said some military personnel will remain to train Iraq's navy.

In the north

Northern Iraq poses the greatest uncertainties for the Pentagon. Mosul, Iraq's third-biggest city, remains one of the last havens for al-Qaida in Iraq and its streets are among the most dangerous in the country. On Tuesday, two Iraqi police opened fire during a U.S. military inspection of an Iraqi security unit in Mosul, killing one American soldier and an interpreter.

U.S. combat support for Iraqis in the north is likely to continue — and perhaps expand — in the coming 18 months. It then could become high on the agenda for the counterterrorism missions, which could include ground forces and aerial surveillance.

The city of Kirkuk is another potential trouble spot. Tensions between Kurds and Sunni Arabs over control of the city — and center of the northern oil fields — show no signs of easing.

Baghdad

In Baghdad, the U.S. military is already making changes in anticipation of the first step of the withdrawal timetable: U.S. forces out of major cities by June 30.

The United States has handed over the Green Zone to the Iraqis, and closed forward operating bases and combat outposts in the city or turned them into smaller stations where U.S. troops work alongside Iraqi security forces.

But Camp Victory, a huge base on the outskirts of Baghdad in a former Saddam Hussein palace complex, will continue to be the U.S. nerve center for the capital. A military official with knowledge of the planning process said Camp Victory's proximity to many Iraqi government ministries and Baghdad International Airport make it a prime location for the U.S. military.

The base is expected to expand as it absorbs troops pulling out of Baghdad before the June 30 deadline.

Deaths last week

As of Saturday, 4,253 U.S. troops have died in the Iraq war. Identifications as reported by the military and not previously published:

Army Cpl. Micheal B. Alleman, 31, Logan, Utah; small-arms fire Monday; Balad.

Army Spc. Brian M. Connelly, 26, Union Beach, N.J.; explosion Thursday; Adhamiya.

Army 1st Lt. William E. Emmert, 36, Lincoln, Tenn.; gunfire Tuesday; Mosul.

Army Cpl. Michael L. Mayne, 21, Burlington Flats, N.Y.; small-arms fire Monday; Balad.

Army Cpl. Zachary R. Nordmeyer, 21, Indianapolis; small-arms fire Monday; Balad.

How the U.S. pullout from Iraq is likely to proceed 02/28/09 [Last modified: Saturday, February 28, 2009 9:41pm]

    

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