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U.S. troops could stay in Mosul past June deadline

Reuters


Tue Apr 14, 1:27 pm ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) ľ U.S. troops could remain in the Iraqi city of Mosul after a June deadline for withdrawal following a spate of high-profile attacks carried out by al Qaeda in Iraq, a U.S. commander said on Tuesday.

Army Colonel Gary Volesky, commander of U.S. forces in the Mosul area, said U.S. and Iraqi officials are now assessing security in the northern Iraqi city to determine whether his troops should leave by June 30, when U.S. combat forces are due to pull back from towns and cities across Iraq.

The deadline is part of a U.S.-Iraqi pact reached last year that also calls for all U.S. troops to depart Iraq by 2012.

Mosul is a region where U.S. forces are still locked in major combat operations against al Qaeda and other insurgents, despite a huge drop in violence elsewhere in the country.

A truck bombing in Mosul killed five U.S. soldiers last Friday, making for the deadliest attack on U.S. forces in Iraq in more than a year.

"We are conducting an assessment right now with our Iraqi counterparts to determine what the way ahead is for security in Mosul. And based on that assessment, a decision will be made," Volesky told Pentagon reporters in a video link from Iraq.

"If the Iraqi government wants us to stay we will stay," added Volesky, who could not say when the assessment would be completed.

Recent bombings in Iraq have raised concern about a potential return of violence amid rising tensions between former Sunni insurgents and the Shi'ite-led government. Mosul, located 240 miles north of Baghdad, is also a focus of sectarian tension between Iraqi Arabs and Kurds.

Attacks have also raised questions about the ability of Iraqi security forces to take over from American troops.

Volesky said security in Mosul is currently being provided by about 4,000 U.S. troops and 25,000 Iraqi army soldiers. But he said the city still needs more than 5,000 police officers.

He expressed cautious optimism that recent U.S.-Iraqi security operations would contain insurgent activity but admitted: "There could be bad days ahead."

Volesky said al Qaeda militants appear to be behind larger-scale attacks in the Mosul area but blamed smaller incidents on criminal elements.

"There's an al Qaeda element left and that's who we believe are tied to the suicide vehicle-borne explosive devices there," he said.

He declined to comment on a U.S. military investigation into Friday's bombing. The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that the Islamic State of Iraq, a militant umbrella group that includes al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the attack.

(Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Eric Walsh)





:: Article nr. 53435 sent on 15-apr-2009 18:31 ECT

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Link: news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20090414/ts_nm/us_iraq_usa_mosul/print



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