Following yesterday’s announcement of the withdrawal of 12,000 U.S. troops from Iraq by September, ABC has an interview with Gen. Ray Odierno in which he tells Martha Raddatz that “he believes all U.S. troops will be out of Iraq by 2011, as laid out in the security agreement announced by President Obama.”
Odierno said the U.S. troop presence in Iraq will “thin out” across the entire country between February and August 2010, though “slower in some places than others,” to undertake the training mission. He considered it likely that areas of northern Iraq like Diyala province and the cities of Mosul and Kirkuk “will be some of the last areas we leave.”
Odierno also suggests that because of continuing insurgent activity in the northern city of Mosul, U.S. troops might stay there past June 30, 2009 — the date by which the SOFA requires all U.S. combat troops to leave Iraqi cities — but that this would only be at the request of the Iraqi government.
“Our strategy is the joint security stations stay and the Iraqis man these combat outposts. The Iraqis could ask us to stay in Mosul after June 30, but that will be their decision,” he said. “If they ask us to stay we will probably stay and help them out. If they ask us to just provide them the advising and training support, then we’ll do that. So there are still some decisions that have to be made.”
Article 24, Section 2 of the SOFA (pdf) states that “All United States combat forces shall withdraw from Iraqi cities, villages… no later than June 30, 2009,” which suggests either that the agreement would have to be amended, or, as is more likely, that U.S. combat troops would be redefined as “not combat troops.” There’s precedent for this in past U.S. military interventions, but what’s unknown is how something like this would play politically in Iraq. Maliki accrued a lot of political capital by securing a timeline for U.S. withdrawal, and it remains to be seen whether and how much he would lose by being seen to abrogate it.