Official: Bloodiest day of the year won’t change U.S. drawdown, Iraq’s government will
Published: August 16, 2011
WASHINGTON – The deadliest day in Iraq this year looks like the work of al-Qaida in Iraq, which after eight years of war maintains up to 1,000 mostly homegrown members, U.S. Forces-Iraq spokesman Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan said Tuesday.
But despite the terrorist group’s persistence – and continued Iranian-backed militant attacks on Iraqis and Americans – the U.S. is not wavering from its plan to pull out all 46,000 U.S. troops from Iraq by December 31.
Despite four months of U.S pleas for Iraq to “Damn it, make a decision,” as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in July, the fates of thousands of U.S. servicemembers remain locked inside Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government, which still has not indicated it wants the U.S. to extend its military presence, much less how.
“Yesterday clearly was a bad day,” Buchanan said, during a lunch with Pentagon reporters.
On Monday, more than 40 coordinated attacks killed at least 89 people, leaving even Baghdad’s few remaining war reporters exasperated.
“After hundreds of billions of dollars spent since the United States invasion in 2003, and tens of thousands of lives lost, insurgents remain a potent and perhaps resurging threat to Iraqis and the American troops still in the country,” wrote the New York Times’ Michael S. Schmidt.
Buchanan did little to tamp down the seriousness of the events, insisting Iraq remains dangerous. But al-Qaida, he said, is not the “existential threat” to the Iraqi state it once was. It remains unpopular and disjointed from Iranian-militants who hold a different ideology, he said.
“It’s a shadow of what it used to be,” Buchanan said of al-Qaida’s operations.
Since former Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ final visit in April, U.S. officials have warned Iraqis to get their act together, appoint ministers of defense and the interior and agree on a request for U.S. forces to stay beyond the end of the year. Buchanan said preliminary Defense Department advisory talks with Iraqis still have not even reached the level of negotiations.
Since April, officials have said the delay limits U.S. options in Iraq. Baghdad’s delaying has yet to affect the planned redeployment of personnel or equipment, Buchanan said. But it was probably not feasible that any forward operating bases transferred to Iraqi control and vacated by U.S. forces would be later re-occupied and built up. That’s why the largest U.S. bases will be among the last to close shop.
The U.S. had indicated several defense areas in which it thinks Iraq needs help, and an Iraqi internal review produced similar results, citing air defense, maritime security and intelligence support. But the U.S. is not matching anticipating an Iraqi request to stay by leaving behind certain equipment or personnel, he said. Instead, that schedule remains tied to transferring equipment and authorities over to the coming civilian control structure led by the State Department.
Officials have said the final U.S. troops in Iraq would begin heading home around September. That’s two weeks away.