- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Former Vice President Dick Cheney on Monday expressed concern that the pending pullout of U.S. troops from Iraq’s cities could reverse the military progress made by American and Iraqi forces there since the George W. Bush administration’s 2007 surge.

“I hope the Iraqis can deal with it,” Mr. Cheney told The Washington Times’ “America’s Morning News” radio show. “At some point, they have to stand on their own, but I would not want to see the U.S. waste all the tremendous sacrifice that has gotten us to this point.”

Iraqis have already been celebrating ahead of Tuesday’s pullout, which the Iraqi government has declared National Sovereignty Day, a public holiday. Under a bilateral security agreement, negotiated by the Bush administration, all U.S. combat troops must be out of Iraq’s urban centers by Wednesday.

In response to Mr. Cheney’s comments, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said, “It sounds as if this is another debate that [the] former vice president is having with his former administration over an agreement that they negotiated and signed.”

The former vice president has emerged as one of the most vocal critics of the Obama administration’s security and defense policies since leaving office. He has also fiercely defended the diplomatic and defense record of the Bush administration in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

In recent weeks, Mr. Cheney has attacked President Obama’s plans to close the detention facility for terrorism suspects at the U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and engaged in an unusually pointed and personal exchange with the new president over the harsh interrogation and counterterrorism measures approved by Mr. Bush and repudiated by Mr. Obama.

Mr. Cheney told The Times on Monday that he is a strong backer of Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, and that the general is doing what needs to be done.

“But what [Gen. Odierno] says concerns me: That there is still a continuing problem. One might speculate that insurgents are waiting as soon as they get an opportunity to launch more attacks,” Mr. Cheney said.

The Obama administration remains committed to the troop pullback — and the eventual withdrawal of all American combat forces by 2012 — negotiated with the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, despite a string of recent violent attacks by insurgents.

U.S. Ambassador to Baghdad Christopher Hill said in an interview with Reuters news agency that the withdrawal would proceed.

“It may be a rocky road, but it has to be an Iraqi road,” Mr. Hill said, speaking in the U.S. Embassy in the city’s heavily fortified Green Zone. “We think Iraq’s ready. Iraq thinks it’s ready.”

More than 250 people have died in Iraq during the past week in attacks and bombings, which appear designed to shake the government’s confidence and reignite sectarian fighting as the U.S. forces pull back. U.S. military officials also announced that an American soldier had been killed in combat Sunday, but did not release any further details.

While noting the gains in Iraq since the surge, Mr. Cheney said in the interview that the defeat of Hezbollah in Lebanon’s recent elections and Iranians challenging the re-election victory of incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also illustrated the point that the Bush-Cheney policies have had a “significant impact throughout the Middle East.”

“The young men and women on the streets of Tehran are proof positive of the universal desire of people to be free, which President Bush talked about,” he said. “It’s been a remarkable development. I hope ultimately they’re successful.”

Mr. Cheney said Mr. Obama is learning a difficult lesson in responding to the postelection violence. The Iranian government says dozens have been killed in the street marches to demand a vote recount. Protesters say as many as 200 have been killed.

“Any time you have a brand new administration, it has to find its balance,” he said. “The lesson that comes out of this is, governing is far different than campaigning. … If you’re the one sitting in the chair in the Oval Office, it’s a lot tougher than looking in from the outside.”

Much of the violence in Iraq is occurring in northeastern Baghdad, where hostile acts have occurred about once every other day.

On Monday, police officers reportedly were killed trying to defuse bombs, one under a car and another under a bridge. In anticipation of more violence, the Iraqi government has banned motorcycles in Baghdad and has increased ID checks and checkpoint security.

Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of the U.S. Central Command, which oversees the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns, also has expressed concern about the recent bombings, but said the average is about 10 to 15 a day, compared with 160 in June 2007.

The United States has about 130,000 military troops in Iraq, who will now be stationed outside major cities to train Iraqi police and provide protection for remaining allied forces. The Pentagon wants to reduce the number to 50,000 by the end of next summer and have all U.S. forces out of the country by the end of 2011.

Iraqi Gen. Abud Kambar al-Malliki warned militias earlier this month that his forces are ready to fight “if you attack our citizens.”

Gen. Odierno said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” that Iraqi forces are ready.

“They’ve been working toward this for a long time,” he said, “and security remains good. We’ve seen constant improvement in the security force; we’ve seen constant improvement in governance. And I believe this is the time for us to move out of the cities and for them to take ultimate responsibility.”

• Jon Ward contributed to this article.

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