Friday, December 18, 2009
Mullen in Iraq: US drawdown on schedule
By ANNE GEARAN The Associated Press Friday, December 18, 2009; 7:50 AM BASRA, Iraq -- The top U.S. military officer, arriving in Iraq Friday, said he is confident that the war-torn country will hold elections on March 7 and that the U.S. drawdown will begin on schedule that month. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a group of enlisted troops that the U.S. withdrawal plans are fixed and will come quickly after the election. "That draw down from 115,000 to 50,000 is going to happen, no doubt in my mind," Mullen said. The election was postponed from January, but Mullen said that will not change U.S. plans. Mullen toured U.S. bases in Basra and Talil, and met with an array of Iraqi military and civilian leaders. In Talil, Mullen saw an Army brigade that is the model for the changing US military role in Iraq. The troops' main job is giving advice and backup to Iraqi forces. In Basra, near the Iranian border, a Shiite cleric greeted Mullen warmly. Abdul Aziz Moosawi told Mullen he is grateful for U.S. help despite earlier skepticism. But Moussawi bluntly explained the calculus of life next door to powerful and influential Iran after the admiral said he is worried about Iran's activities abroad. Iran's influence is inevitable and sometimes works in positive ways, Moosawi said. "But I think we feel the negative impact more," he said.