U.S. officials say the agreement to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq in
three years, signed in Baghdad Monday, is a firm commitment. But they say it
could be renegotiated in the future, depending on security conditions. VOA's Al
Pessin reports from the Pentagon.
At a news conference Monday, the
top U.S. military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen, responded "yes" when asked
whether the agreement signed in Baghdad earlier in the day requires all U.S.
troops to leave Iraq by the end of 2011, regardless of the security conditions.
But he also called the Status of Forces Agreement, or SOFA, "adequate for what
we need now."
"Three years is a long time," said Admiral Mullen.
"Conditions could change in that period of time. And, if we get to a point
where this SOFA is agreed to, and have a relationship with the government of
Iraq tied to it, that we will continue to have discussions with them over time,
as conditions continue to evolve."
At the White House, Press Secretary
Dana Perino also hedged on the withdrawal date, sticking to the label
"aspirational" that she and other officials have used in the past.
you work with a partner on a negotiation, you have to concede some points," said
Dana Perino. "One of the points that we conceded was that we would establish
these aspirational dates."
Speaking from Baghdad
shortly after signing the agreement with U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker, Iraqi
Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told VOA's Kurdish Service it is too soon to say
whether any extension of the American military presence beyond 2011 might be
negotiated. He also said he expects Iraq's parliament to approve the agreement
within 10 days. It will replace a U.N. Security Council mandate that expires at
the end of the year.
The U.S. decision to agree to a firm withdrawal date
is a distinct change from previous policy. Senior military officers and Bush
Administration civilian officials have always said troop reductions should be
based only on security conditions and should not be bound by timetables.
Admiral Mullen indicated Monday that current conditions and trends in
the insurgency and in the competence of Iraqi security forces give him hope that
the new timetable and the security conditions will not be in conflict by the
time the last U.S. soldier is scheduled to leave Iraq.
continue to improve in a way where we are allowed to withdraw forces, and we've
done that very specifically," he said. "And, as I've said for a significant
period of time, I am hopeful that conditions will continue to improve, so we can
continue to do that."
Admiral Mullen said a full withdrawal of the
approximately 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, along with their equipment, would in
any case take two to three years. He also said the agreement's requirement for
a U.S. withdrawal from Iraqi cities by the middle of next year is possible, but
it will be "a big challenge" to securely remove U.S. troops from Baghdad and the
northern city of Mosul by then.
The top U.S. military officer said he
is "comfortable" that the agreement provides "adequate...authorities and
protections" for U.S. troops to do their jobs. Reports from Baghdad say the
agreement increases Iraqi authority over coalition military operations and
allows for the prosecution of U.S. troops in Iraqi courts in extreme
Asked whether the United States could withdraw its troops from
Iraq even more quickly than the agreement requires, as President-elect Barack
Obama has indicated he would like to do, Admiral Mullen said he recognizes there
are "other options" for U.S. policy.
"Should President-elect Obama give
me direction, I would carry that out," said Admiral Mullen. "I mean, that's what
I do as a senior member of the military. What President-elect Obama has also
said is that he would seek the counsel of myself and the Joint Chiefs before he
made any decisions. And so, I look forward to that discussion, look forward to
Admiral Mullen would not say what advice he will give
Mr. Obama, but he said he believes security conditions should continue to be
considered as the new president charts his Iraq policy.