After the June 30, 2009 deadline to withdraw from Iraq’s cities, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki set stringent restrictions upon the movement of U.S. troops. This caught U.S. commanders by surprise as they expected to largely continue on with their patrols, training missions, supply convoys, etc. as they had before. Instead, Maliki ended all joint patrols, refused to pass on requests by Iraqi commanders for aid from Americans, and basically restricted most U.S. troops to their bases. Re-supply trips were only allowed at night, U.S. advisers already with Iraqi forces, and checks on reconstruction projects were largely the only operations allowed by the government. In Baghdad, there are only a few hundred U.S. soldiers out in the city as a result. The fact that the government failed to properly inform the public and Iraqi forces about these rules also led to a number of confrontations as well. For example, Iraqis would call the authorities every time they saw U.S. forces without an Iraqi escort, and Iraqi police and soldiers would not allow American troops through checkpoints.
Two and a half months since the June pullback, and U.S. troops find themselves concentrating on Iraq’s rural areas and reconstruction projects. Maliki’s restrictions on joint patrols in major cities are still in places with the exception of Mosul. Out in the countryside however, the rules are not as strict and U.S. troops have been going out with their Iraqi counterparts. Americans are also allowed to check on reconstruction projects with Iraqi approval, which gives them another way to get out of their bases.
The reason that Baghdad has placed such tight limits on the U.S. is because of Maliki’s 2010 re-election campaign. One of the issues that he is running on is the claim that he got the U.S. to leave Iraq. The Prime Minister is also pushing for the referendum on Status of Forces Agreement to coincide with the January voting. If Iraqis vote it down, U.S. combat troops will have to leave Iraq by January 2011, instead of the planned for December 31, 2011 date. Maliki’s plans have been complicated by the recent increase in deaths, but so far he seems willing to accept these casualties because asking for U.S. aid would be seen as a major reversal for him. This gamble may not pay off as the August 19, 2009 Baghdad bombings have brought into doubt his whole approach to security.
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