US Mosul withdrawal cause for concern of Iraqis and insurgents

Times:

Lying in the dust of a Mosul street, a bullet in his leg, the insurgent had plenty on his mind when American soldiers ran towards him. The engineer, who was in his thirties and fluent in English, had thrown a grenade at a US patrol and been shot down by a turret gunner as he tried to make his escape seconds earlier.

As the Americans gathered around him, one concern seemed paramount. “Don’t give me to the Iraqi Army, don’t give me to the Iraqi Army’,” he begged, according to the gunner.

Iraqi forces, American units, insurgent cells: every group has its own worry in Mosul in the run-up to the planned withdrawal of US forces from the city on June 30. The insurgents have the most to gain from an American pullout but realise that they will face harsher treatment if they fall into the hands of the remaining Iraqi forces.

“The Iraqi Army’s reaction will be much more extreme once we’ve gone — and they tell us that privately,” a US major said.

The June 30 deadline was set in the Status of Forces Agreement that was signed between Iraq and the US in November as part of the schedule by which America plans to leave Iraq by 2011.

Yet in Mosul, the second-largest city in Iraq and the so-called last bastion of al-Qaeda in the country, the date has caused concern. American and Iraqi commanders are wary that insurgent activity may intensify, which would have implications for the entire schedule of US withdrawal.

Despite numerous statements from Iraqi officials insisting that the withdrawal date refers to all US forces in Mosul, American troops are likely to remain amid concerns that the local forces are not yet fully equipped to police the city.

“We don’t want to see Mosul go backwards,” warned Colonel Gary Volesky, commander of the 3,500 US troops from the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, which is operating in the city. “If it slides it would look extremely poor for our overall efforts.”

Military operations and fiscal input have had a dramatic effect on the violence in Mosul. Nine months ago there were between 20 and 40 insurgent attacks each day. The figure has dropped to between four and eight.

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They will miss the US investment of dollars immediately. They will also miss the leadership of US forces that have mentored the Iraqis. The episode with the insurgent in the lead makes me think the insurgents will also miss the kinder gentler treatment of US forces. Will the left want the US to stay for humanitarian reasons?

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