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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

US Troop Drawdown Begins

BAQOUBA, Iraq American troops in Iraq are beginning to pull back from bases and outposts that were linchpins in the U.S. surge that helped reduce violence, prevent a civil war and allow peaceful elections.

In Baghdad, the Iraqi Ministry of Trade now has possession of what was once Forward Operating Base (FOB) Callahan, the locus last year for operations to quell militias loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in and around the Muslim Shi'ite slum of Sadr City.

U.S. military officials said about 15 other bases in Baghdad will follow suit before June 30, when all American troops are to have relocated from the nation's cities, towns and villages. The pullback is stipulated by the status of forces agreement that since Jan. 1 has governed the continued U.S. military presence in the country.

In Baqouba, 35 miles north of Baghdad, a sprawling compound known as Combat Operations Post (COP) Hatoon was returned to its private owners earlier this month, and COP Tahrir, a school once used as a headquarters by al Qaeda in Iraq, will soon return to the Ministry of Education.

Soldiers on outposts near populated areas in Iraq often establish friendly relationships with residents during patrols. New restrictions on U.S. operations and the withdrawal of troops from cities may make that more difficult. (Richard Tomkins/The Washington Times)

Only a third or fewer of the 14 installations in Baqouba and surrounding Diyala province will remain after the withdrawal deadline, said Maj. John Sutton, the assistant operations officer of 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, which is part of the 25th Infantry Division.

"Just because we pull back doesn't necessarily mean we aren't going to have any presence. We just won't be in the populated areas themselves," he said.

"Prior to 2006, when we started moving out to these other places, we were on the SuperFOBs and we were doing [missions], but with a less effective Iraqi security force. Now were pulling back with an Iraqi force with increased capability.

"So, yes, we're going to be a little bit farther away, but we have a partnership now with a capable entity. It will balance out," he said.

Washington and Baghdad signed the status of forces agreement in December. Under the terms of the agreement, U.S. troops must have court-issued warrants before detaining terrorism suspects, Iraq's military must approve operations and U.S. forces must withdraw from populated areas by the end of June. It also requires U.S. combat forces to leave the country completely by the end of 2011.

Read it all here.

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