by Fu Yiming, Hui Xiaoshuang
Gen. Raymond Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq said Saturday that some U.S. troops will remain in Iraqi cities' security stations beyond a June 30, 2009 deadline stipulated in the recently approved U.S.-Iraq security agreement.
As Odierno explains, only "training and mentoring teams" which are not part of combat troops, will remain after next summer.
However, with a vague definition on "combat and non-combat troops", the U.S. military presence in Iraq may not disappear in line with the security agreement.
The pact, known as U.S. military withdrawal agreement in Iraq, states that all U.S. combat forces shall withdraw from Iraqi cities and villages no later than June 30, 2009; and all U.S. forces shall withdraw from Iraq no later than December 31, 2011.
Odierno's intention echoed the remarks made by Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh in Washington, where he said the U.S. troops might stay in Iraq for another decade.
"We do understand that the Iraqi military is not going to get built out in the three years. We do need many more years. It might be 10 years," Dabbagh said at a Pentagon press briefing last Thursday. He also told reporters the Iraqi government would be open to negotiations that would keep troops in Iraq after the agreed withdrawal date.
Calling it "personal point of view rather than that of the Iraqi government," Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki later revoked the comments made by his own spokesman. Such anecdote has been generally regarded as a move to appease the public rage among Iraqis who have jittered at any news of a prolonged U.S. post-war occupation.
Opponents to the pact have said the American presence is the main reason for the instability plaguing the war-torn state. Currently, there are about 149,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.
In fact, similar comments made by high-level officials from both the United States and Iraq recently reinforced public's fear that the troops withdrawal pact signed between the two governments could turn out to be a political conspiracy desperately needed for quelling criticisms from both home and abroad.
After eight months of spats, negotiations and two postpones, Iraqi parliament passed the troops withdrawal pact amid strong objections. But ambiguous interpretations lurk in several key articles, the U.S. newspaper McClatchy quoted an anonymous U.S. official as saying last month.
Analysts believe, in the affiliated terms of the pact, "necessary mechanisms and arrangements" to be established to implement specific troops withdrawal, allows both sides a large leeway for maneuver.
Odierno believed Iraqi security forces would still be too weak to stand on their own within the agreed transitional period, and thus need U.S. military to provide "assistance with transition teams."
"Those are things we are going to negotiate in our implementation agreement," he said. "But we still will maintain our very close partnership with Iraqi security forces around Iraq after the summer."