The top US commander in Iraq said that a US role over the next two years is crucial to ensuring legitimate national elections and helping Iraq become a long-term US partner in the Middle East.
US General Ray Odierno disputed Colonel Timothy Reese’s call for the military to declare victory and leave ahead of schedule, telling reporters on Tuesday that the US presence is needed even though security is better than expected a month after Iraqi forces assumed responsibility for protecting cities.
The commander said he solicits opinions from officers at every level but Reese’s view dealt with tactical issues, not the overall strategic goal.
“Our goal here given us by the president is a secure, stable sovereign self-reliant Iraq. We’re not there yet,” he said in a wide-ranging interview after meeting with Iraqi officials at a US base outside the Anbar provincial capital of Ramadi.
Odierno argued that US troops should stay mainly to train and advise Iraqis to avoid a resurgence of major violence that would squander more than six years of enormous US sacrifices. He cautioned that many obstacles remain, particularly Kurdish-Arab tensions that could stoke violence in northern Iraq.
His remarks came five days after the circulation of a controversial memo prepared by Reese, a US Army adviser to the Iraqi military in Baghdad. Reese argued that the US effort to train, equip and advise Iraqi security forces has reached a point of rapidly diminishing returns and the US should go home next summer, 16 months ahead of schedule.
The memo was intended for limited distribution among US officers in Baghdad but ended up being circulated on the Internet last Thursday. It reflected the frustration of many US soldiers who feel they have done as much as they can after more than six years of warfare that has left at least 4,331 service members dead.
Iraq has seen relatively little violence following the June 30 deadline for the US to pull back from urban areas to rural bases, although there have been periods of intense bombings.
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