- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 22, 2010

Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the U.S. commander in Iraq, said Sunday that he expects Iraqi security forces to be ready for the withdrawal of U.S. forces at the end of next year.

“My assessment today is, they will be [ready],” Gen. Odierno said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

But when pressed further and asked whether that was a drop-dead deadline or he could foresee a scenario where there remains a U.S. military presence in Iraq for years to come, Gen. Odierno answered, “I don’t know.”

“If the government of Iraq requests some technical assistance in fielding systems that allow them to continue to protect themselves, some external threats, we could be here,” he said.

Last week, Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, spoke similarly about President Obama’s withdrawal plans for that country, saying timetables are conditions-based and that he would not hestitate to recommend keeping troops past the deadline if the situation on the ground required it.

Earlier this month, Iraq’s most senior military officials warned that the country’s army would not be able to cope with a complete U.S. troop withdrawal.

“If I were asked about the withdrawal, I would say to politicians: The U.S. army must stay until the Iraqi army is fully ready in 2020,” said Lt. Gen. Babakar Zebari, the Iraqi army chief of staff. That same day, eight Iraqi soldiers were killed in two explosions by insurgents, attacks that fed lingering concerns over the still-fragile state of Iraq, which has been unable to form a new government nearly six months after its March 7 national elections.

Gen. Odierno’s comments on Sunday come as the U.S. military works to meet Mr. Obama’s pledge to hand over military responsibility to the Iraqi government by the end of the summer as part of his plan to reduce troop levels to 50,000 and to have a complete withdrawal from Iraq in 2011.

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