US timeline for Iraq pullout nearly complete

Combat troops expected gone by August 2010

By Pamela Hess and Anne Gearan
Associated Press / February 25, 2009
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WASHINGTON - President Obama is nearing a decision on a timeline for removing all US combat troops from Iraq by August 2010, administration officials said yesterday, ending the war three months later than he had promised during his presidential campaign.

The withdrawal plan - an announcement could be made as early as this week - calls for leaving a large contingent of noncombat troops, between 30,000 and 50,000, behind to advise and train Iraqi security forces and to protect US interests.

Obama built enormous grass-roots support for his White House bid by pledging to withdraw troops 16 months after taking office. That schedule, based on removing roughly one brigade a month, was predicated on commanders determining that it would not endanger either US troops left behind or Iraq's fragile security.

The contingent remaining would include intelligence and surveillance specialists and their equipment, including unmanned aircraft, according to two administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the plan has not been made public.

The complete withdrawal of US forces will take place by December 2011, the period by which the US agreed with Iraq to remove all troops.

A senior White House official said yesterday that Obama is at least a day away from making a final decision. He further said an announcement today is unlikely, but he said that Obama could discuss Iraq during a trip to North Carolina on Friday.

About 142,000 US troops are in Iraq, roughly 14 brigades, about 11,000 more than the total in Iraq when president George W. Bush announced a "surge" by US forces in January 2007. He sent an additional 21,000 combat troops to Baghdad and Anbar Province.

Although the number of combat brigades has dropped from 20 to 14, the United States has increased the number of logistical and other support troops. A brigade is usually about 3,000 to 5,000 troops.

Removing so many people and tons of equipment presents logistical difficulties. The 19-month strategy is a compromise between commanders and advisers who worry that security gains could backslide in Iraq and those who think the bulk of US combat work is done.

In Iraq yesterday, in the northern city of Mosul, two Iraqi policemen opened fire on four American soldiers and two Iraqi interpreters inside a police station, the third deadly attack on American soldiers in two weeks in the still-volatile provinces of Nineveh and Diyala, the Washington Post reported.

One American soldier and one of the interpreters were killed, the US military said. The three other soldiers and second interpreter were wounded. An Iraqi police captain at the scene was also slightly injured, said police officials. The assailants escaped.

The assault highlighted that large patches of northern and central Iraq remain violent even as security has improved in Baghdad and in other areas. Sunni insurgents remain entrenched in Nineveh, especially the provincial capital Mosul, and in Diyala, 40 miles north of Baghdad.

Yesterday's attack occurred a day after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki reopened Iraq's National Museum, declaring it a symbol of the nation's stability and progress. Hours later, a roadside bomb killed three American soldiers and an Iraqi interpreter during combat operations in Diyala.

Two weeks ago, a suicide car bomber killed four US soldiers and their Iraqi interpreters in Mosul, the deadliest assault against US troops in nine months. Despite massive US and Iraqi military offensives over the past year, Mosul remains a stubborn stronghold of the Sunni insurgency, especially the Al Qaeda in Iraq group.

Yesterday's assault on the US troops and interpreters by Iraqi policemen appeared well planned, officials said. The attackers had cars waiting for them after the assault, and families of the attackers had also fled.

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