It should come as no surprise that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has been quick to endorse emerging plans to hasten the departure of U.S. forces from his country. Maliki, after all, had opposed the Bush Administration's decision to increase U.S. troop levels in the surge of 2007, and he had forced a reluctant Washington to accept a hard deadline for withdrawal in the Status of Forces Agreement adopted late last year. The growing abilities of the Iraqi security forces and the strengthening of his political position after last month's provincial elections have added to Maliki's confidence in managing without the Americans. "We welcome such a decision and support it," said Tahseen al-Shekhli, a spokesman for the Iraqi government, of Obama's intention to end the U.S. combat mission in Iraq by August 2010. "We consider this as a good-faith sign from the American Administration toward Iraq and Iraqis."
Word of the new White House drawdown plan, which Obama officially announced on Friday morning in a speech at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, was greeted with shrugs of contentment by most Iraqi political figures, largely because the Obama plan appears to be in step with what Iraqis had expected as a result of the Status of Forces Agreement signed by the Maliki government and the Bush Administration last December. That agreement requires most U.S. combat troops to be off the streets of Iraq by this summer and all U.S. troops to have left the country by 2011. (See pictures of Basra's return to normality.)
The most powerful political factions in Iraq would prefer to see U.S. forces leave sooner rather than later. Maliki's Shi'ite-dominated government and security forces have faced down their biggest foe, the Mahdi Army militia of Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. And Sadr's movement, which remains a political force in Iraq, was the first of the Shi'ite groups to agitate for a U.S. withdrawal. Only two camps in Iraq remain uneasy about seeing U.S. troops move offstage over the next 18 months the minority Sunnis, who remain fearful of a revival of sectarian violence against them, and the commanders of the Iraqi security forces, who are anxious that U.S. logistical support and equipment may dry up as the U.S. draws down.
"It's really necessary for the American troops to remain now," said Yousef Aboud Ahmed, a Sunni volunteer fighter with a militia supported by U.S. forces in the Baghdad neighborhood of Adhamiya. "If we had a nonsectarian government in power, then yes, it would be a good idea for the American forces to go. They should go one day. But not in this situation."
For some U.S. soldiers in Iraq, however, the prospect of leaving sooner rather than later within the established withdrawal timeline is welcome. "Good," said Army Captain Matt van Stavern, whose unit is serving in Mosul, where U.S. and Iraqi security forces continue to battle insurgents who've remained active in the city for the past year despite an overall drop in violence across the country. "My boys are ready to go home. And the Iraqi people will be ready."
With reporting by Mazin Ezzat / Baghdad and Nick McDonell / Mosul