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Odierno Isn’t Going Against the SOFA « The Washington Independent

Twitter user @sgwhiteinfla, proprietor of the excellent blog Smooth Like Remy, asked me if I thought Gen. Raymond Odierno, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, was up to something by suggesting that U.S. forces wouldn’t respect the Status of Forces Agreement’s provision that U.S. troops depart from Iraqi cities by June. My initial response was Huh? Odierno said what now? So he passed on a link to an interview I had otherwise missed: Odierno talking to the Times of London, packaged with the blaring headline “We May Miss Iraq Deadline To Halt al-Qaeda Terror.” But as Andrew Gilligan might say — yeah, I’m referencing a long-ago Iraq mini-scandal — that’s kind of sexed up.

Click through to the transcript of Odierno’s interview. He said that continued violence in Mosul makes him worry if the Iraqi security forces are really ready to take control of the city by June 30:

I’ve had some preliminary conversations with Prime Minister [Maliki]. It is going to be a very difficult political decision for him to decide whether US remains inside the city in Mosul or not. We will wait.

Asked to elaborate on coming out of the cities more broadly, here’s what he said in full to the reporter, Deborah Haynes, on the subject of continued violence in the Iraqi north:

What I would say about coming out of the cities is that I feel confident about coming out of the cities in most of Iraq. I even feel confident in Baghdad even following the recent attacks of yesterday. I do feel the security forces are capable of securing Baghdad. We will still be here to assist them, we will still have transition and advisory teams with them inside of Baghdad.

The agreement says that combat forces out of the cities by June 30 so all of our support forces will remain. But we will be prepared to assist them if they need it. So if there is a bad incident and they need assistance then we will be right there to help them and I think we’ve worked that out.

The two areas I am concerned with are Mosul and then Baquba and parts of Diyala province. We will conduct assessments and provide our assessment when the time’s right I want to give it more time because things can change pretty quickly around here.

Then there’s a clarification, framed as asking whether operations in the cities post-July might come across as “Americans not being true to their word.” Here’s Odierno’s response:

I think we have been very clear. We have turned over over 51 bases, we have closed many bases inside Baghdad. We have been very clear about this from the beginning. One of the things we promise to support Iraqis with is with our enablers, air if they need it. We help them with logistics, we help them with planning, we help them with intelligence, we have to be with them in order to help them. We can’t just not be with them. So in order to provide them those enablers we have to be co-located and continued to work with them.

This seems like thin ground for the Times‘ headline and framing. Everything he’s talking about doing — lending support to Iraqi troops who continue to operate in Iraqi cities — is consistent with the SOFA. No one’s ever said that Iraqi cities are no-go zones for U.S. troops after June 30. If Maliki indeed asks Odierno to stay in Mosul past June 30, that really is a problem from the perspective of the SOFA, but it doesn’t seem from the interview that Odierno is pushing for that prospect, and says explicitly that such a decision is cost-heavy and may not happen. Throughout the interview, he declares himself “comfortable” with the Iraq withdrawal timetable and the “flexibility” it provides him. I’ve had my doubts about Odierno’s commitment to the SOFA, but this isn’t setting off the alarm bells.

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