Retired Colonel: Iraq Violence Will Remain Problem

The deadline for the withdrawal of all U.S. combat troops from Iraqi cities was Tuesday. Col. Peter Mansoor (retd.) says the withdrawal is necessary, but violence will still plague Iraq for years to come.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Peter Mansoor served at General David Petraeus' executive officer in Iraq. He was a colonel in the U.S. Army. He's now retired and teaching military history at Ohio State.

Welcome to the program once again.

Colonel PETER MANSOOR (U.S. Army, Retired; Professor of Military History, Ohio State University): Well, thanks for having me on.

SIEGEL: For some years, U.S. leaders have said that we will stand down as the Iraqis show that they can stand up. Can they actually stand up to the threats facing their government?

Col. MANSOOR: It remains to be seen. Clearly, the ball is in their court now. The Iraqi security forces have come a long way since their total dissolution in the 2003. Some units are clearly more ready than others, but they're going to be put to the test, and put to the test sooner rather than later.

SIEGEL: U.S. troops, of course, are still in Iraq. It would seem that they're in a difficult situation in which, if they are deployed on behalf of the Iraqis, then the withdrawal could appear to be a failure. But if they're called in to play a too large a role, then the Iraqi training effort looks like a failure.

Col. MANSOOR: The key, really, is the advisory effort at this point. Our advisors and trainers will remain embedded in Iraqi units, which will be in Iraqi cities. So we will have a few American soldiers and officers working with the Iraqi security forces wherever they are. And that really should become the main effort. Our combat forces are repositioned on the outskirts of the cities. They still are conducting counterterrorist activities in the rural areas and on the borders, but the main effort clearly is the Iraqi security forces, which now have the main responsibility for ensuring that sectarian violence doesn't erupt again.

SIEGEL: A lot more than just a few U.S. troops still there doing anti-terrorist work.

Col. MANSOOR: A hundred and thirty thousand. But it's pretty difficult since - this is really an urban-based insurgency. It's an urban-based terrorist environment - pretty difficult for U.S. forces positioned on the outskirts to do more than work at the margins of what is really the critical tasks ahead.

SIEGEL: Colonel Mansoor, I want to read you two sentences from today's Washington Post dispatch from Baghdad. Quote: "There is little talk among U.S. commanders and diplomats of engineering a victory in the two-and-a-half years they expect to remain here. Some officials have begun saying privately that the best case scenario would be to depart with a modicum of dignity." What do you think of that?

Col. MANSOOR: Modicum of dignity for sure, but also what you want to depart with is to leave a stable situation behind. And it's the creation of stability in Iraq that should be the operative goal moving forward.

SIEGEL: But those are relatively modest aims at this time, compared to where we were a few years ago.

Col. MANSOOR: Much more modest, but you can't forget that we have created a democracy. The Iraqis have created a democracy. It is a representative form of government, which is really the only form that will keep Iraq together as a nation-state. I think any other form would see a dissolution of the Iraqi state into two or three parts. So there is that. And whether that becomes some sort of model for other nations in the Middle East remains to be seen. The tides of history wash in strange directions.

SIEGEL: Do we have to accept that there will be a certain amount violence? That there will be acts of terrorism and some sectarian violence no matter what?

Col. MANSOOR: There will be. Iraq will be a violent place for years to come. There will be factions that don't accept the way the government is designed. They think that they could get more out of violence than through the political process. But clearly, it's in the Iraqi's interest and our interest, as well, to keep those elements in the strict minority and to do what we can to, again, continue to reconcile with those factions willing to reconcile and continue to hunt down those that aren't. Terrorism will be a fact of life for - that Iraq's going to have to deal with for a long time to come, unfortunately.

SIEGEL: Colonel Mansoor, thank you very much for talking with us today.

Col. MANSOOR: My pleasure.

SIEGEL: That's Peter Mansoor. He's a retired U.S. Army colonel, and now teaching military history at the Ohio State University.

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Iraqis Celebrate As U.S. Troops Leave Urban Areas

Iraqis waved flags and honked horns as U.S. troops officially withdrew from cities and towns across the country Tuesday in what Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki dubbed a "National Sovereignty Day" public holiday, more than six years after American forces invaded to oust Saddam Hussein from power.

"This day, which we consider a national celebration, is an achievement made by all Iraqis," the prime minister said in a televised address. Maliki said the continued presence of foreign troops in the country was Hussein's "most serious legacy" and warned that "those who think that Iraqis are not able to protect their country and that the withdrawal of foreign forces will create a security vacuum are committing a big mistake."

Shortly before the withdrawal was complete, four U.S. soldiers were killed in combat, the latest casualties in a war than has claimed more than 4,300 American troops and tens of thousands of Iraqis. That was followed by the third bomb blast in recent days — the latest a car bomb that killed at least 30 people and wounded nearly 45 in the northern city of Kirkuk.

The urban pullout completed on Monday, part of a U.S.-Iraqi security pact, marks the first major step toward a complete withdrawal of all U.S. forces from the country by the end of 2011. The United States had closed or returned to local control 120 bases and facilities and will turn over or close an additional 30 sites by Wednesday, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said.

On the streets of Baghdad, a military parade was held in the heavily fortified Green Zone diplomatic district featuring thousands of Iraqi soldiers and police in U.S.-donated Humvees, armored cars and tanks.

President Jalal Talabani thanked the United States, saying the day of celebration would not have been possible without the U.S. invasion in 2003 that toppled Hussein.

"While we celebrate this day, we express our thanks and gratitude to our friends in the coalition forces who faced risks and responsibilities and sustained casualties and damage," Talabani said. He also warned that "security will not be achieved completely without the proper political environment and without a real national unity and reconciliation."

However, insurgents have increased attacks in the weeks leading up to the U.S. drawdown, including the three bomb blasts that killed nearly 200 people.

Some American troops will remain in urban areas to train and advise Iraqi forces, and combat troops will return to cities only if asked. The U.S. military will continue combat operations in Iraq's rural areas and near the border, but only with the Iraqi government's permission.

U.S. officials have not said how many troops will remain in advisory roles, but the vast majority of the more than 130,000 U.S. forces remaining in the country will be in large bases scattered outside cities.

From NPR staff and wire reports

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