'What is a city' is one question the US and Iraq must answer as they try to balance a requirement that US combat forces withdraw from cities next month and the need for US help to maintain security.
Except that Iraqi and American military officials have decided it's not. As the June 30 deadline for US soldiers to be out of Iraqi cities approaches, there are no plans to relocate the roughly 3,000 American troops who help maintain security in south Baghdad along what were the fault lines in the sectarian war.
"We and the Iraqis decided it wasn't in the city," says a US military official. The base on the southern outskirts of Baghdad's Rasheed district is an example of the fluidity of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) agreed to late last year, which orders all US combat forces out of Iraqi cities, towns, and villages by June 30.
"We consider the security agreement a living document," says a senior US commander. With six weeks to go, US and Iraqi commanders are sitting down in joint security committees to determine how they can comply with the decree that all US combat forces withdraw from populated areas by the end of June and still maintain the requirement to assist Iraq in fighting the insurgency and maintaining security and stability.
"[The Iraqis are] clear in their intention, less clear in their implementation," says the senior military official, who asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the subject.
Complexity of operating under SOFA
The security agreement, which took effect five months ago and charts the US-Iraqi relationship for years to come, is also being tested in murkier waters, such as the US right to self-defense.
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