Retired Army Gen. Jack Keane, a former vice chief of staff, was an advocate of the troop surge in Iraq in 2007. He says a 16-month timetable for combat troop withdrawal from Iraq is possible.
Keane tells NPR's Robert Siegel that military forces are on the cusp of reaching their strategic objectives in Iraq, including what he calls "a fledgling democracy."
"In January, the Sunnis will participate in provincial elections along with the Shiites and the Kurds," Keane says. Estimates are that there will be more than 90 percent participation in the provincial election, he says. "What that'll mean then is for the first time, the Iraqis will have true representation that represents the people in Iraq, be they Kurds, Sunnis or Shiite."
"And that's a huge step forward," Keane says.
Keane says that forces will be reduced in 2009 and 2010, but that the exact strategy for withdrawal should be somewhat flexible, should the enemy reassert itself.
"If there has to be some adjustment of the timetable by a few months, I would suspect the president, come Jan. 20, would be willing to accommodate that, given the enormous opportunity that we have to have a stable government in Iraq, friendly to the United States and not aligned with the Iranians," he says.
Keane says that though Iraqi security forces are gaining strength, they aren't ready right now for an immediate exit of American troops.
"The Iraqi security forces have been making significant progress," Keane says. "We have turned the overwhelming majority of the provinces over to them, but they're not ready to take it all over right now — that's the issue."
Based on his analysis of the situation in Iraq, Keane says the outcome of the war is no longer in doubt.
"The momentum that we have achieved is not reversible, because the al-Qaida operation is defeated," he says. "The mainstream Sunni insurgents, in fact, are in the political process, as opposed to using armed violence. And the Iranians who were causing all sorts of mischief in the south have suffered a major setback — they haven't given up yet."
"We're in much more in a peacekeeping operation now than we are in a counterinsurgency operation," Keane says. "Despite the fact of a failed strategy for three years, every indication we have is we will have a positive outcome in Iraq."