U.S soldiers take up position during a patrol in Kerbala, 80 km south of Baghdad July 17, 2010. (Xinhua/Reuters Photo)
by Matthew Rusling
WASHINGTON, Aug. 12 (Xinhua) -- While the United States is scheduled to pull its combat troops from Iraq by month's end, some have voiced concern that Iraqi forces may not be ready to take over security for years to come.
The latest phase of the U.S. drawdown is expected to leave behind 50,000 troops who will play a non-combat role, with a final withdrawal slated for the end of next year.
Since taking office last year, U.S. President Barack Obama vowed to pull out of Iraq, beginning the process last summer with a withdrawal from Iraqi cities.
"We are on target to complete our drawdown by the end of August. Already we have removed over 80,000 troops from Iraq since President Obama took office," said White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs on Wednesday.
"(U.S. commander in Iraq) General Odierno also reported that the security situation has retained the significant improvements made over the last couple of years and that the Iraqi security forces are fully prepared to be in the lead when we end our combat mission later this month," Gibbs said.
But many fear that the immature Iraqi forces may not be capable of securing the war-battered country, which was plagued by frequent militant attacks even when the bulk of U.S. troops were present.
Nathan Hughes, director of military analysis at global intelligence company Stratfor, said although Iraqi forces have made improvements over the last two years, they have done so in a fairly permissive security environment, compared to the one before the power sharing agreement was put in place in Baghdad.
"This has all taken place with an enormous number of troops in the country," he said.
But the balance of power between Iraq's sectarian factions is fragile, and if it unravels, Iraqi security forces will not be effective, he said.
"So the real question is can a new government take hold in Baghdad? Can an equitable power sharing agreement that is acceptable to all sectarian groups be worked out?" he said.
"If so, the Iraqi security forces may be able to do their thing. But without the political understanding, without the ethno-sectarian understanding, the Iraqi forces are not going to be able to impose security on the country," he said.