How Soon Could U.S. Troops Leave Iraq?

Steve Inskeep talks to correspondent Peter Kenyon in Baghdad about the prospect of American troops pulling out of Iraq. He says many Iraqis admit an immediate pullout could undermine security goals.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Our correspondent in Baghdad has been listening to that interview, and we're going to him next. NPR's Peter Kenyon has also been listening to Iraqis as they consider their future.

And, Peter, how quickly do Iraqis say that they want the American troops out?

PETER KENYON reporting:

Well, as you can imagine, many of them want the troops out yesterday, but if you press them on what that would actually mean and lead to, some will admit that an immediate pullout of foreign forces could well make their goal harder, their goal being having their own country, you know, policed by their own police, looked after by their own armed forces with their own judiciary and stable government. It's true that parts of the Sunni-led insurgency seem ready to take the plunge and join the new government, but there seems that there's always going to be a hard core that will never do that, including some foreign fighters. So now that's why what you see, instead of calls for immediate pullout here, you see more calls for a timetable. `We'd like to know when you're going to leave. That would help.'

INSKEEP: And when there is pressure for some kind of timetable, how does that add to the pressure on American trainers?

KENYON: Well, I'm not sure that it does by itself. So far, all the talk of timetables is predicated on Iraqi forces achieving the desired state of readiness first, as General Dempsey was talking about. What may add pressure, although I think the military would almost certainly deny this, would be increasing levels of anxiety from Washington as the 2006 congressional elections approach, and there's a smaller chance that Iraqi political pressure for US troop reductions will increase because we've got thousands of candidates out there running for 275 parliamentary seats, after all, in these elections coming up next month. But so far, most of the calls, as I say, have been for timetables, not an immediate pullout.

INSKEEP: Now General Dempsey in that interview talked about handing over the country one province at a time. What are the possibilities there?

KENYON: Well, I think probability is a better term. I really don't see how else you could do it unless you were planning to stay here for a very long time indeed. If you look at some of the provinces up in the north, up in the Kurdish regions, they are probably the most pacified already, and they've been run by Kurdish militias for years, and that's essentially who you'd be handing over for there. So the Americans may well look in that direction early on. And then if you get down to the west in Al Anbar, you go to the north in Diyala and, of course, right here in Baghdad, things are much more problematic, and they may be some of the latest if not the last provinces handed over.

INSKEEP: So would that still leave a fundamental problem, a handful of provinces in the center and west of the country that are just very difficult to control?

KENYON: I think both the Americans and the Iraqi government have been focused on that as the very tough end game for quite some time now, and the question is when will the Iraqi forces be ready to take on that challenge.

INSKEEP: NPR's Peter Kenyon is in Baghdad.

Peter, thanks very much.

KENYON: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: And we'll continue our discussions tomorrow with Iraq's national security adviser.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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