WASHINGTON - President Obama plans to remove all U.S. combat troops from Iraq by August, 2010, administration officials said yesterday. That is three months later than he had promised during his campaign.
The withdrawal plan - an announcement could come as early as this week - calls for leaving a large contingent of troops behind, between 30,000 and 50,000, to advise and train Iraqi security forces and to protect U.S. interests.
Mr. Obama built enormous grass-roots support for his White House bid by pledging to withdraw troops 16 months after taking office. That schedule, based on removing roughly one brigade a month, was predicated on commanders determining it would not endanger U.S. troops left behind or Iraq's fragile security.
The troops remaining will include intelligence and surveillance specialists and their equipment, including unmanned aircraft, according to two administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the plan has not been made public.
The complete withdrawal of American forces will take place by December, 2011, the period by which the United States agreed with Iraq to remove all troops.
A senior White House official said yesterday that Mr. Obama is at least a day away from making a final decision. He further said an announcement today is unlikely, but he said that Mr. Obama could discuss Iraq during a trip to North Carolina on Friday.
About 142,000 U.S. troops, or roughly 14 brigades, are in Iraq. That is about 11,000 more soldiers than the total U.S. contingent in Iraq when then-President George W. Bush announced in January, 2007, that he would "surge" the force to put down the insurgency.
In Iraq yesterday, a U.S. soldier and an Iraqi interpreter were killed and three U.S. troops were injured when gunmen fired on them in the northern city of Mosul.
The gunmen were wearing Iraqi police uniforms, officials said.
The incident was the third since November in which men in Iraqi security force uniforms attacked U.S. forces in Nineveh province.
A U.S. military statement gave few details of the incident, which it said occurred during a meeting at an Iraqi police station. It said four Americans were injured and one later died. A second Iraqi interpreter also was injured.
According to Iraqi police, gunmen wearing police uniforms opened fire on the group at a bridge checkpoint in Mosul, the capital of Nineveh. A police official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not an authorized spokesman, said the gunmen were manning the checkpoint and fled after the shooting.
Nineveh is considered the last stronghold of the militant group al-Qaeda in Iraq and also a battleground for Sunni Arab and Kurdish elements fighting for influence in the region. Unlike most of Iraq, its level of violence has not declined dramatically in recent months. Four U.S. soldiers were killed this month in an attack in Nineveh, where Iraqi and U.S. forces on Friday launched a military offensive.
Iraqi Brig. Gen. Said Ahmed Juboori said the operation was being carried out by army and national police elements, in addition to U.S. forces. He said it would lead to mass arrests.
Violence nationwide is at its lowest level since August, 2003, according to U.S. officials, and American troop deaths are their lowest since the Iraq war began in March, 2003. But northern Iraq, particularly Nineveh and Diyala provinces, remain trouble spots. On Monday, three U.S. soldiers and their Iraqi interpreter were killed in Diyala.