June 30, 2009:
According to the new security agreement between the U.S. and Iraq, all American troops, except trainers and advisors, will be out of Iraqi urban areas by June 30th. The only exception is Camp Victory, a major American base in Baghdad, which is within the city limits. The treaty treats Camp Victory as "outside the city."
The American troops still working in urban areas as trainers and advisors will amount to no more than one or two percent of the troops in the area (down from 10-40 percent, or more for special operations.) There is some anxiety that the trainers and advisors will be at great risk. That's because, when the U.S. troops pulled out, they gave Iraqi police and army commanders most of the American intelligence data on the areas U.S. troops were in, as well as data on how the American troops patrolled, and operated in general. If a lot of this information got to the terrorists, or hostile militias, it would not only lead to a loss of future intel (your informants would flee or be killed), but put the American advisors, and the Iraqi security personnel they are working with, at greater risk. But since there will be hardly any American targets in the cities, selling or leaking this information will simply endanger Iraqi police and soldiers.
For most American troops, life will be a bit easier. U.S. troops will still be patrolling, but only in rural areas. If they find anything amiss, they can still carry out raids. But most of the terrorist activity is in the cities, so troops will spend more time pulling guard duty, maintaining their vehicles and bases, and enjoying more time off. There will be a lot less of the 12/12 schedules (12 hours on duty, 12 off), and more eight hour shifts and weekends off.
That could all change if the Iraqis prove incapable of handling all the security work that over 100,000 U.S. troops (the ones in the urban areas) were taking care of. But the feeling is that, eventually the Iraqis have to do it themselves, and now is as good a time as any to find out if they are ready. U.S. troops who have been in Iraq for a few months, know that few Iraqi units operate to American standards (which, let's face it, are among the highest in the world). But the Iraqis also know the country better, and are well aware of the fact that as long as there are still terrorists and large criminal gangs about, their own families are at risk. American troops have come to recognize that "Iraqi, good enough" standards often get the job done. It may take longer, and result in more friendly losses, but the Iraqis seem to prefer it that way.
By the end of July, it will be clear if the Iraqis are up to the task. It's not just the few hundred Islamic terrorists (and thousands of supporters), but also the private armies and criminal gangs (at least the large ones), that the security forces have to deal with. The private armies, or militias, have been quiet since last year, when the American surge offensive, and an Iraqi army offensive in Basra, broke their will. Since then, the Iraqis have been trying to disarm the militias, or otherwise neutralize them politically and militarily. The criminal gangs (often moonlighting militiamen) are another matter. Crime rates are still high, and for the average Iraqi, this is more of a problem than the occasional suicide bomber. U.S. troops can still be invited into a city by the government. But the Iraqis are reluctant to do this (and admit failure) unless the situation is dire. Time will tell, and the verdict will slowly emerge over the next few weeks.