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Daily Column
US Papers Mon: Unease Mounts
Anxiety, Pride in Iraq for Iraqis as U.S. Troops Leave Iraq's Cities
By DANIEL W. SMITH 06/29/2009 02:00 AM ET
As one would expect, most of the news today is about the US troops largely leaving Iraq’s cities, and the Iraqi forces taking the reigns. Also, a story about a retiring marine pushing for more support for recuperating troops.

From Iraq
The Washington Post’s Ernesto Londoño writes of some of the Iraqi view on the withdrawal, from regarding “the presence of U.S. troops in their neighborhoods as a necessary evil, to, as one Iraqi put it, “only propaganda for Maliki.” He focuses on Salah al-Jbory, a Sunni tribal elder in Baghdad’s Dora region, one of the fiercest neighborhoods in the height of the sectarian violence, and one of the areas more commonly attacked by insurgent bombings in past months.
In a country where perception often matters more than reality, some Iraqis see the June 30 deadline as little more than symbolic. After all, more than 130,000 U.S. troops remain on Iraqi soil, and a mass drawdown is not expected until after the Iraqi general election in January.

...For Jbory, the withdrawal happened months ago, when American troops left the small combat outpost near his home. This time last year, Jbory was a busy man. Maliki named him head of a local support council that was to act as the eyes and ears of the government. The Americans, meanwhile, appointed him to oversee the transition and rehabilitation of inmates they released back into his neighborhoods. His office was always crowded and his calendar booked. He said he grew to regard the U.S. troops who came to him seeking information and counsel as his sons.

One night last winter, they left their small outpost quietly, never to come back. "I'm in charge of rehabilitation of detainees," he said, smoking a Davidoff cigarette with a plastic filter. "And no one told me they were leaving."
Gina Chon of the Wall Street Journal writes of the growing unease with which Iraqi officials and residents are looking on, as US the transition happens. In Baghdad’s neighborhood of Khadra, Chon writes that fears of past sectarian violence are being heightened. A scary example is big red X’s suddenly appearing on some houses, and Chon writes that a Sunni resident said “he thought the symbol had sectarian significance since it seemed, from talking to neighbors, that the mark appeared on homes belonging to Sunni families.” “We're very scared about the meaning of this," the Sunni resident said in an interview. "Maybe we will be targeted for something.”

This brings up one crucial role that the US military has served – a buffer between sects.
U.S. officials worry that as they continue to battle the remnants of an insurgency and efforts to reignite sectarian strife, they will be losing critical, on-the-ground intelligence gleaned from the neighborhoods they once lived in and patrolled. The boots-on-the-ground approach was crucial to the Pentagon's mostly successful surge strategy in Baghdad.

Many Iraqis are still deeply suspicious of the sectarian leanings of the country's nascent security forces. For them, the pullout of American troops means the disappearance of an effective check on suspect Iraqi soldiers and police officers.
Also, she writes that the Iraqi Oil Ministry said Sunday it had pushed back by one day the announcement of winners of a closely watched oil-bidding round, citing a sandstorm that forced the shutdown of the Baghdad airport.

Aamer Madhani of USA Today has a story on a new focus US commanders have as a result of the transition, securing rural areas that they say insurgents are using as hide-outs to plan attacks. "The major mission for us is to stop activity from going into Baghdad," said Lt. Col. Jim Bradford, commander of the 1st Battalion 63rd Armor Regiment, having just moved from Baghdad to an area of surrounding countryside.

Madhani gives some specifics, and a particular example which illustrates the troops’ movement.
At the start of this year, just one U.S. battalion was overseeing the area around Abu Ghraib west of Baghdad, which had been a hotbed of insurgent activity earlier in the war that began in 2003. Now, there are three U.S. battalions, or roughly 2,400 soldiers, in the area.

About 130,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq and will still be available for combat operations if needed by their Iraqi counterparts. An unspecified number of troops are staying in cities to advise and train Iraqi forces. U.S. troop levels are not set to decline significantly until a gradual drawdown begins this fall as part of a security agreement that calls for all U.S. combat forces to leave Iraq by Aug. 31, 2010. All American troops are to be gone by the end of 2011.
Stateside
Derrick Henry of the New York Times reports on Gen. Ray Odierno’s upbeat remarks to other news organizations. “I do believe they’re ready,” General Odierno said from Baghdad on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “They’ve been working towards this for a long time. And security remains good.” There is some run-of-the-mill analysis, but it’s mostly Odierno.
General Odierno, who also appeared on “Fox News Sunday,” said that he had seen “constant improvement” in the security force and governance in the region despite some large attacks last week.

Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, has called the withdrawal of American troops from cities a “great victory,” a repulsion of foreign occupiers. However, General Odierno said he did not agree.

“That’s not exactly how I read it,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.” “They’re seeing it as a progression in their capacities, and I think that’s the important point.”
In the Washington Post, Steve Vogel reports on the efforts of Lt. Col. Tim Maxwell’s efforts to improve the care of wounded marines, often isolated and left with little support past the medical care given. Maxwell noticed that they were living in empty barracks, away from other Marines, and that they had little supervision after being released. Having gone through the experience of being wounded in combat and sustaining a traumatic brain injury.
The simple question Maxwell asked is credited with changing how the Marine Corps supports its wounded. His advocacy for central billeting for Marines recovering from injuries led two years ago to the creation of the Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment, headquartered at Marine Corps Base Quantico.

On Friday, at his retirement ceremony at the National Museum of the Marine Corps at Quantico, Maxwell was saluted for his achievements by a crowd of 200 people, among them Gen. James F. Amos, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps.
Christian Science Monitor, no original Iraq coverage.
Comments on the US Papers roundup are welcome at ds@iraqslogger.com



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