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Troop drawdown from Iraq progressing

Cucolo: Iraqis taking charge, U.S. advising

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POSTED: March 12, 2010 11:24 a.m.
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MG Tony Cucolo

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In a conference call from Iraq Thursday, 3rd ID Commander Maj. Gen. Tony Cucolo told reporters the 22,000 troops under his command in northern Iraq will draw down to 9,000 by Sept. 1.
Cucolo said his combat troops’ mission is in transition.
Currently the U.S. Army is a partner to Iraqi and Kurdish security forces and Iraqi police, he said. But now that the Iraqis are better trained to protect their people, U.S. troops will continue to take on more of an advisory role, the general said.
This process of turning security over to the Iraqis will depend on what happens after final election results come in, Cucolo said. As a soldier, the general said he must prepare himself and the troops he commands for “what if” scenarios, such as the possibility of extremist groups reacting violently to Iraq’s election outcome.
Initial election results showed a close race between Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his opponent Ayad Allawi, the former interim prime minister, according to the Associated Press. Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission reported both candidates’ parties were leading in two provinces each, the AP said Thursday. Allawi’s secular coalition had the lead in Diyala and Salahuddin, north of Baghdad, and Maliki’s coalition was ahead in Babil and Najaf, in southern Iraq, the AP reported.
“I’m incredibly proud being present in Iraq for this election day,” Cucolo said.
The general said entire families lined up at polling sites, children intently watching their parents vote.
“We helped leading up to the election,” he said. “We assisted our Iraqi partners with planning and acquiring and placing barrier material. I went to a number of planning sessions where I sat quietly and listened to my counterparts – Iraqi two-star generals – plan.”
Cucolo said U.S. troops helped the Iraqis position security forces and police in inner and outer circles surrounding polling sites and provided aerial surveillance when requested. Quick reaction forces, a combination of Iraqi, Kurd and U.S. personnel, and ground medical support stood ready during the election, he said.
The general said his troops were also busy escorting United Nations observers during the election, so they could address complaints of fraud and cheating.
 “An election is a pretty hard thing to run,” he said. Cucolo said he was confident the observers could handle complaints and contesting of any election outcome.
“At the polling sites, every political party was allowed an observer in the polling site,” he said. “They were as transparent as they could be.”
Cucolo said his division in north Iraq covers seven ethnically and religiously diverse provinces and now that the election is over, U.S. troops and their Iraqi partners are waiting to see “if anything happens.”
“We’re going to protect the population and watch the formation of the government,” he said.
In the meantime, a caretaker government will be set up so public services may continue, the general said.
 “I believe I can turn over elements of battle space to Iraqi elements with confidence,” Cucolo said. He added U.S. troops still have “a lot of work to do” with their Iraqi partners to “put pressure on” violent extremists.
 “We don’t do anything unilateral,” Cucolo said. “I see partnering continuing through the spring and summer. “By Sept. 1, we can go from partnering to advising. We’re right on track to do what we’ve been ordered to do.”

 

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