WASHINGTON — The commanding general of coalition forces in Baghdad admitted "friction" with Iraqi forces since the June 30 withdrawal of U.S. troops from major Iraqi cities, but called the problems expected bumps in the security transition.
"There’s not been a lot of confrontation or pushing and shoving or silly stuff out there," Army Maj. Gen. Daniel Bolger, commander of Multi-National Division—Baghdad, said Tuesday. "We’ve had scenes where American and Iraqi commanders have to get out of their vehicles and figure out what’s going on, but we’ve had that at earlier parts of the war, as well."
U.S. and Iraqi forces are still debating exactly what the status of forces agreement allows following the pullout from Iraqi cities.
Bolger said the 15-page document is open to "a lot of different interpretation" and conceded confusion over where and how some combat operations are conducted.
Over the weekend, The Associated Press reported that Col. Ali Fadhil, a brigade commander in Baghdad, said American soldiers likely feel "as if they are under house arrest" because of restrictions on patrols and convoy movements under the agreement.
But Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen said Monday he has not heard complaints about commanders being limited by the new rules.
An e-mail from Bolger obtained by The Washington Post complained to U.S. commanders about new restrictions from Iraqis on U.S. forces movements through Baghdad, noting "we are not going to hide our support role in [Baghdad]. I’m sorry the Iraqi politicians lied/dissembled/spun, but we are not invisible nor should we be."
He reiterated those points on Tuesday. He added that U.S. training and support teams will continue to have a prominent, visible role inside the cities, and criticized Iraqi press for reporting that American troops were required to be out of sight after June 30.
But Bolger acknowledged that the core mission of American troops in the country has changed, and said his personnel have shifted from their combat patrols in the city to a split security and humanitarian role in the countryside outside of Baghdad.
"The tempo has changed ... but I think overall our people are doing about the same," he said. "I think they’re outside [of bases] for as much time as before."
Meanwhile, Bolger said, Iraqi forces so far have done a commendable job keeping insurgent groups from building up their attacks since the U.S. forces pullback. Attacks in the region still average about four a day, roughly the same level as May and June.