View Full Version : U.S.-led coalition in Iraq dwindles as allies leave

12-04-08, 07:36 AM
U.S.-led coalition in Iraq dwindles as allies leave
By Michael Christie
Wed Dec 3, 11:57 am ET

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – A string of departures by the U.S. military's allies in Iraq is turning into an exodus as violence subsides and the end of a U.N. mandate permitting their deployment to the country approaches.

Barely a day goes by without an end-of-mission ceremony in a dusty military camp somewhere in Iraq, with U.S., allied and Iraqi officials delivering grateful speeches to departing troops, and pinning medals on chests as military bands play.

On Wednesday, it was the turn of an Azerbaijani contingent to say goodbye at Camp Ripper in once volatile but now relatively tranquil Anbar province. On Thursday, Tongan marines will celebrate their departure at Camp Victory in Baghdad.

Troops from Bosnia-Herzegovina, South Korea, Poland, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Latvia and Macedonia have already bade their farewells in the past two months and Japan will end its air force mission flying supplies into Iraq this year.

"The fact that we have the ability to redeploy some of those elements is actually a good news story," said Lieutenant General Lloyd Austin, commander of U.S. combat forces in Iraq.

"It's a good news story because it means security has improved in a lot of places to the point that we can actually operate effectively despite the loss of some of that great capability," he told a news conference.

The tasks carried out by the partners would be taken on by an ever-more confident and capable Iraqi army, Austin added.

The sectarian bloodshed unleashed after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 has dropped significantly in the past year.

Once dominant Sunni Arabs who initially allied with al Qaeda in confronting the U.S. invaders switched their allegiance to the Shi'ite-led government, and the government cracked down on Shi'ite militias that had established violent fiefdoms.

Additional U.S. troops and a build-up of Iraqi army and police ranks helped to drive al Qaeda and others underground.

Car bombs and suicide bombings remain frequent and bloody -- at least 296 Iraqi civilians died violent deaths in November. But U.S. military deaths last month dropped to the lowest level since the war began more than five years ago, with six killed.

At its peak, the force that outgoing U.S. President George W. Bush called a "coalition of the willing" in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq included troops from 38 nations. But the overwhelming bulk consisted of U.S. soldiers.

There are 146,000 U.S. and 4,100 British troops in Iraq now. Other nations have no more than 1,000.

The number of allies would slip to a "handful" by the end of the year, a Bush administration official said in September.

This is not just down to a sharp decline in violence.

A U.N. mandate governing foreign troops in Iraq expires at the end of the year and Iraq does not want it to be renewed.

The Iraqi government has negotiated a security pact with the United States that paves the way for U.S. troops to pull out of Iraqi cities by the middle of next year and withdraw completely from the country by the end of 2011.

But the pact does not cover Washington's partners. Britain is seeking its own bilateral accord to allow its troops in Iraq to remain near the southern city of Basra into next year.

(Editing by Tim Cocks and Richard Balmforth)