Gates Cites Progress on Troop Drawdown in Iraqi Cities

By Greg Jaffe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 28, 2009; 5:19 PM

BAGHDAD, July 28 -- Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on Tuesday hailed the progress made in implementing a new security agreement that has led to the formal withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraqi cities but also sparked tension between Iraqi and American soldiers.

"The feedback I got here was that the agreement has changed the relationship . . . in a positive way," Gates said after a briefing in southern Iraq. "Nobody is the boss or the occupier."

Instead, he said, the two armies were more likely to treat each other as equal partners.

Gen. Raymond Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said there have been some "growing pains" in places like Baghdad and Mosul as troops adjusted to the new rules governing U.S. forces. "What happened is that you had some [Iraqi] commanders who did not do a good interpretation of the agreement," Odierno said.

U.S. and Iraqi troops in Baghdad and Mosul have struggled on several occasions in the past month over how to interpret the security agreement, which restricts U.S. operations inside Iraqi cities. In one instance, an Iraqi commander tried to detain U.S. troops following a shootout in a suburb of Baghdad that left three Iraqi civilians dead. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki later said that the Iraqi officer was "out of line."

This month, about 500 U.S. and Iraqi commanders took part in a video teleconference in which Lt. Gen. Charles Jacoby, who oversees daily U.S. operations in Iraq, and the head of Iraqi ground forces talked through the various points of disagreement regarding the new security pact. "All the commanders were allowed to bring up their issues," Odierno said. "They resolved many of them, and they then published an order. . . . And since that time, we've had significantly fewer issues."

Gates played down the recent tension between U.S. and Iraqi forces and said it was "remarkable" that there had been so few incidents in Baghdad and Iraq's other cities.

The disagreements are the latest sign of the increasing willingness of Iraqi leaders to exercise greater independence in recent weeks.

U.S. commanders said that pullout of U.S. troops from Iraqi cities hasn't led to more attacks by insurgent groups. Rather, the withdrawal has allowed U.S. forces to focus more on the areas surrounding Baghdad that have traditionally been places where insurgents have sought refuge. It also freed up troops to work with Iraqis on securing the country's border with Iran, military officials said.

Odierno said that if current trends held, overall attacks in July would be lower than the previous month, which saw a few high-profile bombings just prior to the U.S. pullout from Iraq's cities. He said it was also taking insurgent groups more time to pull off large-scale bombings. "The time between attacks is much longer," Odierno said.

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