Basra, Iraq — The top U.S. general in Iraq said he will make a decision about the future role of American troops in early spring, to allow enough time to address any violence that may arise from January’s provincial elections.
Army Gen. Ray Odierno told The Associated Press that the two-month period after the election will allow U.S. troops and Iraqi security forces to ensure those legitimately elected can take office. He also said U.S. troops will move into southern Iraq early next year to replace departing British forces.
“So we have to make sure in the election those who didn’t win understand that, and we will be able to seat the new government properly,” Odierno, the overall commander of U.S. and allied forces in Iraq, told AP late Saturday. “And once we get to that point, it’s now time for us to take a look at what is right for the future.”
Violence is dropping sharply throughout the country — an Iraqi military official said Sunday that murder rates have returned to pre-war levels.
Military officials say Odierno has already outlined for Pentagon leaders a withdrawal plan that would pull thousands of troops out of Iraq early next year but move more cautiously than the 16-month timetable pledged by President-elect Barack Obama.
“I expect we will start to thin our forces in ’09. It’s the right time to do that,” he said. “We will do it in a deliberate, careful way to make sure we have enough combat power to support the Iraqis in case there is the unexpected, a resurgence of an extremist group of some sort that tries to have an affect of the stability inside Iraq.”
Odierno said he has not talked with anyone on Obama’s transition team.