US forces are maintaining plans to begin leaving Iraq in large numbers next year despite coordinated suicide attacks on Tuesday that killed 126 people, top US military officer Admiral Michael Mullen has said.
AFP - US forces remain on track to begin withdrawing from Iraq in large numbers next year despite coordinated suicide attacks on Tuesday that killed 126 people, the top US military officer has said.
Admiral Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told reporters that while the withdrawal of US forces in Iraq were "on a balance' with the buildup in Afghanistan, nothing that has happened so far would upset plans.
"Certainly we're always looking at plans that take into consideration other outcomes, but right now we just don't see anything at this point in time that would require us to execute those," he said.
"Clearly I've got my increase in Afghanistan on a balance with the decrease in Iraq, and I can actually execute that within some margin. So it is by no means one for one, or even one brigade for one brigade kind of thing.
"For the worst case kinds of options, obviously, it would start to impede. But right now I don't think we're even close to that," he said.
The attacks in Baghdad -- the third of their kind since August -- struck government targets across the city in rapid succession, leaving at least 126 people dead and hundreds more injured.
Five bomb-laden vehicles were driven into a finance ministry office, a tunnel leading to the labor ministry, a courthouse, a police patrol, and interior ministry offices in central Baghdad.
Iraqi officials said the attacks bore the hallmarks of Al-Qaeda and Baathist insurgents who plunged the country in sectarian bloodshed and chaos in 2006-2007.
Mullen said he thought the bombings aimed to rekindle sectarian strife, but he said the Iraqi government had managed to prevent a sectarian "breakout" in the earlier episodes of suicide attacks this year.
"And I think that speaks volumes to the growing confidence the Iraqi people have in their own government," he said.
The latest attacks followed the passage of an election law and a March date for national elections, a delay from the January elections called for by Iraq's constitution.
Mullen said the 115,000-strong US force would not be drawn down until after the elections.
He said US commanders believe that even with the delay in the elections, the force can come down by 50,000 troops by August.
But he said the US military is paying close attention to the situation and working to help the Iraqi security apparatus to address any shortfalls.
"We still have 115,000 United States troops in Iraq as a symbol of the United States commitment here, and we want to see this thing come out well," he said.
Date created : 2009-12-09