While President Barack Obama has already pledged that the United States will “responsibly leave Iraq to its people,” and is planning to ask the military to draft a plan to get troops out in 16 months, but comments from General Ray Odierno, the top US commander in Iraq, suggest that the elections in Iraq may have more to do with a potential US exit than anything the new commander-in-chief does.
Iraq has two elections this year, a provincial election on January 31 and another as-yet-unscheduled national election sometime near the end of the year. Gen. Odierno said that if the “legitimate, credible elections” go off without incident, he believes the relative low level of violence currently prevailing across much of Iraq would be “irreversible,” presumably enabling the pullout. Yet candidates are already being killed, the latest a Sunni sheik in Nineveh Province. The situation is liable to worsen in the days to come.
“What’ll be interesting to see is what happens after the elections – the 60 days after the elections – for those where the elections didn’t turn out quite the way they wanted them to turn out,” Odierno said, assuring that the military was prepared for any violence.
If the United States waits until 60 days after the national election takes place to begin the pullout in earnest, Obama may have only 2-3 months left to make good on his campaign promise of a 16 month pullout. Yet the president has also promised to listen to military personnel on the ground in making his decisions on the matter. The status of the pullout remains, a day after the inauguration, as unclear as ever.