If security in Iraq improves, The United States’ senior military officer has said he will probably recommend withdrawing more US troops from there.
The statement by Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, came as the last of the 20 000 soldiers from the so-called surge last year officially ended their tour, and as Iraqi forces took over security control of Diwaniyah province from US troops.
Diwaniyah is the 10th of Iraq’s 18 provinces to fall under the control of Iraqi forces. The remaining eight provinces could be under Iraqi control by December, officials said.
The level of violence across the country is down to a four-year low based on reports of US and Iraqi military deaths, attacks on Iraqi civilians and sectarian violence, US officials say.
Though he said that Iraq had not reached “a tipping point” and was not “irreversible”, Adm Mullen said that more progress had been made than he expected.
“But security is unquestionably and remarkably better”, he said following a recent visit to Iraq.
“Indeed, if these trends continue I expect to be able early this fall to recommend to the secretary [of defence] and the president further troop reductions.”
Nonetheless, on Wednesday violence continued in Iraq, with a car bombing at a popular market in the country’s north, killing at least 15 people, including seven children, police said, and nearly 100 people were injured.
The attack came a day after bombings killed about 40 people and wounded scores in northern Iraq.
The start of a 45-day evaluation period in order to assess the security situation in Iraq and determine how many more soldiers could be pulled out marks the so-called surge of US troops.
Significant improvements in Iraq have been pointed in recent months by US military commanders, including reduced violence and the growing capacity of Iraqi forces.
If security improves, US officials have been hoping that they may be able to send more units to Afghanistan, where they say violence is increasing. As a result, on Wednesday, US defence secretary, Robert Gates said that officials are looking for ways to send additional troops to Afghanistan this year.
At least 140 000 US soldiers are in Iraq, which is about 10 per cent or several thousand more than before the “surge” in late 2007.