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Commander Says U.S. Troops On Schedule To Leave All Iraqi Cities

Lieutenant-General Ray Odierno

Lieutenant-General Ray Odierno

SAMARRA, Iraq (Reuters) - U.S. combat forces will vacate all Iraqi cities on schedule by the end of this month, including the insurgent stronghold of Mosul, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq has said.

U.S. combat troops are scheduled to leave Iraq's towns and cities by June 30 and redeploy to bases outside, according to a security pact that took effect in January.

But some U.S. and Iraqi officials had suggested this might have to be delayed for Mosul, which is still plagued by Al-Qaeda and other insurgent groups, who stage frequent attacks.

Asked whether U.S. combat forces were on track for a total pullout from all cities, including Mosul, Army General Ray Odierno said: "We are. We have done a joint assessment.... We have finalized that."

"We will come out of the cities. We will provide some trainers and advisers, LNOs [liaison officers]...inside of Mosul...but that'll be it," he said in an interview with Reuters.

Odierno had previously not ruled out staying on in Mosul if the Iraqi government requested help to fight insurgents.

"We've made some good progress up there in the last several months. I feel much better about where we're at in terms of security in Mosul.... We'll be able to turn it over," he said.

Odierno was speaking to Reuters on a trip to the city of Samarra, where the bombing of one of Shi'ite Islam's holiest shrines in February 2006 triggered a wave of tit-for-tat sectarian slaughter that nearly tipped Iraq into civil war.

He said that since those days, Iraqi security forces had made huge leaps in terms of the size of their forces, and better training and equipment, but that U.S. forces would remain in Iraq in an advisory role until the withdrawal date agreed with Baghdad in the bilateral security pact: the end of 2011.

"I think it's time for us to move out of the cities, I think it's important that people understand we are going to abide by the agreement that we've signed," he said.

U.S. combat forces are due to leave Iraq by August 2010 under President Barack Obama's plan.

Odierno said defeating the insurgency in Mosul and surrounding Nineveh Province would depend on the new provincial government acting quickly to provide basic services

"Once you deliver that, you eliminate the ability of this insurgency to be able to continue," he said. "The sad part about Nineveh is very little's been done over the last several years."