Only a “catastrophic event” could prevent combat troops from coming home from Iraq, according to the top US general in Iraq.
“But we don’t see a catastrophic event on the horizon right now,” General Ray Odierno told MSNBC’s Norah O’Donnell Monday.
“The plan is we will continue to turn control over to the Iraqi security forces and by August we believe we’ll be able to end our combat mission and get down to about 50,000,” he said.
Odierno said it could be years before the United States can gauge whether its long military campaign there had achieved any measure of success.
The general was speaking a day after millions of Iraqis defied deadly bomb, mortar and rocket attacks to vote in the first parliamentary elections since 2005, seen as a test of the war-shattered state’s fragile democracy.
He rejected the premise of the current Newsweek magazine cover titled “Victory at Last: the Emergence of a Democratic Iraq” with a photograph of former president George W. Bush walking below his infamous “Mission Accomplished” banner during a May 1, 2003 Iraq speech on an aircraft carrier.
“I don’t think we’ll know whether we were successful or not in Iraq until three to five or 10 years down the road,” he told MSNBC television.
“Is Iraq a democratic country able to contribute to peace and stability in the region? That will be the true test.”
Speaking on ABC television, the general said the United States was “on track” to bring US troop levels down to 50,000 combat forces by September 1, and to withdraw all US military from the country by the end of next year.
He warned US support for Iraq’s fledgling democracy would not end when all its troops leave the country.
“This will be over a long period of time. We think we have an opportunity we might never have again,” said Odierno.
On Sunday, US President Barack Obama hailed Iraq’s elections as an “important milestone” in the country’s history, and praised the courage of Iraqi voters casting their ballots despite a wave of violence that left 38 people dead.
“We know that there will be very difficult days ahead in Iraq and there will probably be more violence, but like any sovereign independent nation, Iraq must be free to chart its own course,” he said.
This video is from MSNBC’s Morning Joe, broadcast March 8, 2010.
(with AFP report)