Wednesday, February 17, 2010
U.S. troops at lowest level in Iraq since 2003 invasion
BAGHDAD (AP) — The number of American troops in Iraq has dropped below 100,000 for the first time since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, the U.S. military said Tuesday. The U.S. military plans on maintaining its current 98,000 troops on the ground in Iraq through the March 7 elections, said 1st Lt. Elizabeth Feste, an army spokeswoman in Baghdad. That's in line with what Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, has said would remain in place until at least 60 days after the election — a period during which he has said Iraq's new government will be at its most vulnerable. President Obama has ordered all but 50,000 troops to leave Iraq by Aug. 31. The remainder will pull out by the end of next year under an Iraqi-American security agreement. "The withdrawal pace remains on target for about 50,000 at the end of August 2010," Feste said. AFGHANISTAN: U.S.-led offensive in Marjah continues AT RISK: Afghanistan far deadlier than Iraq for U.S. troops in 2009 Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is running for re-election on a campaign promise to make Iraq independent from U.S. military help. At a campaign rally Tuesday, he said the United States cannot expect to use Iraq as a launching pad for military action in the Middle East. "We also confirm to all our neighboring and friendly countries that our constitution stipulates to not let the Iraqi territories be a springboard to harm security and interests of any state," al-Maliki told supporters at a Baghdad hotel. During the height of the invasion in May 2003, about 150,000 U.S. forces were in Iraq. That number quickly dropped off by January 2004 as American troops moved from a combat to occupation role. The troop levels ramped up in October 2007 as part of a troop surge ordered by President Bush. At the peak of the surge there were roughly 170,000 troops on the ground. Violence dropped dramatically as a result, but the Pentagon has warned that attacks may increase in the weeks leading to the election. The Pentagon has said it is concerned that tension between the Shiite-dominated government and minority Sunnis could reignite sectarian violence that was tamped down by the troop surge. Thousands of angry Sunnis protested Tuesday in Fallujah against comments attributed to a Shiite lawmaker who allegedly insulted a companion of the prophet Mohammed revered by Sunnis. The demonstrations in Fallujah west of Baghdad followed a similar protest of hundreds of Sunnis in Baghdad on Monday over the comments by lawmaker Bahaa al-Aaraji. On Tuesday, a string of bombs targeted Iraqi army patrols and a police crime lab in Mosul northwest of Baghdad. In the first attack, a car bomb exploded outside a side entrance of the lab, said Lt. Col. Salim Ibrahim, an area commander. It killed two people. Later, two roadside bombs struck separate Iraqi army patrols in eastern Mosul, killing two soldiers.