BAGHDAD, (AP) – The Iraqi military has turned down requests from American forces to move unescorted through Baghdad and conduct a raid since the transition of responsibility for urban security at the end of last month, an Iraqi military commander said Monday.
U.S. combat troops withdrew from urban areas on June 30 under a security agreement with Iraq that requires all U.S. troops to be out of the country by the end of 2011.
Col. Ali Fadhil, a brigade commander in Baghdad, said the transfer had occurred with minor friction in the capital where violence has dropped dramatically since the sectarian bloodletting and insurgent attacks that swept much of the country in past years.
Fadhil told The Associated Press about two occasions in which Iraqi troops turned down U.S. requests to move around the capital until they had Iraqi escorts, and one instance to conduct a raid, which the Iraqis carried out themselves.
“They are now more passive than before,” he said of U.S. troops. “I also feel that the Americans soldiers are frustrated because they used to have many patrols, but now they cannot. Now, the American soldiers are in prison-like bases as if they are under house-arrest.”
Outside urban areas, where U.S. troops are still free to move without Iraqi approval, Americans are assisting with the search and arrest of insurgents, manning checkpoints and continuing ongoing efforts to train Iraqi forces — from medics to helicopter pilots. U.S. soldiers recently advised Iraqi soldiers during a seven-hour humanitarian aid drop in Diyala province.
In Washington, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and the highest-ranking U.S. military officer, Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, downplayed reports of tension. Both said cooperation is going well, and Gates said he has heard nothing to suggest that U.S. forces are in greater danger.
“There clearly are challenges, but I think the leadership is working its way through each one of those challenges,” Mullen said. “So I’m encouraged.”
Gates said he received a report on the issue Monday from the U.S. ground commander, Gen. Ray Odierno.
“He said that the level of cooperation and collaboration with the Iraqi security forces is going much better than is being portrayed publicly and in the media,” Gates told reporters at a Pentagon press conference.
As to whether U.S. forces are under “house arrest,” Gates offered a sly smile.
“It is perhaps a measure of our success in Iraq that politics have come to the country,” Gates said.
Dangerous situations still face U.S. troops on and off their bases.
Iraqi forces face near-daily attacks in urban areas, though most of the violence is not on the scale of the past. On Monday, Iraqi police said a car bomb killed two police officers and injured eight civilians in Ramadi, west of Baghdad, and four police officers and one civilian died in attacks in and near the northern city of Mosul, Iraqi police said.
On Tuesday morning, two bombs hidden in a food stall and and a pile of trash exploded a few seconds apart near a group of day laborers in Baghdad’s Sadr City area. Iraqi police said two people were killed and at least 30 others wounded.
On July 16, three U.S. soldiers were killed in a rare assault on troops at a U.S. base near an airport in Basra, a comparatively quiet city in southern Iraq.
Hadi al-Amiri, a lawmaker and member of the parliament’s security and defense committee, said the Americans’ withdrawal from the cities went very smoothly — “like removing a hair from dough.”
Outside of cities, Americans are free to move without Iraqi approval, he said. “They have the right to respond to any attack. In Basra, the Americans have the right to return fire.”
On July 11, an American soldier shot and killed a truck driver, an Iraqi citizen, who did not respond to warnings to stop on a highway north of Baghdad. On July 9, a civilian Iraqi motorist died in a head-on collision with a U.S. Army Stryker vehicle, the lead vehicle of a joint U.S.-Iraqi convoy in western Diyala province.
But things are different under the restrictions in Baghdad.
Fadhil said an American patrol wanted to pass through an area in west Baghdad during daytime hours.
“I prevented them and told them they were not allowed unless they had approval, and even if they had approval, Iraqi forces had to accompany them,” Fadhil said. They were allowed to continue with Iraqi vehicle escorts.
Another time, Fadhil said a U.S. patrol wanted to leave the walled-off Green Zone, which houses the U.S. embassy and Iraqi government headquarters, to travel less than a mile to nearby Muthana Air Base. Again, they were allowed through, but only after Iraqi troops accompanied them.
When an American patrol wanted to arrest an enemy target in a Sunni area of west Baghdad, Fadhil said he told them: “No, you cannot.” He said he told the U.S. troops they had to hand over the tip about the target to Iraqi troops, who later made the arrest.
Iraqi military spokesman Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi cited three other incidents in early July when he said U.S. patrols violated the security pact in parts of Baghdad. He said these incidents were addressed at a committee of top U.S. and Iraqi officials, who meet regularly to resolve disagreements that surface about U.S. and Iraqi troop movements.
At the meeting on July 2 — two days after the new rules took effect — the Iraqis were annoyed, said al-Moussawi, who was told details of the tense discussion. The Iraqis complained that U.S. troop patrols in Taji and Shaab in northern Baghdad and Ur in northeast Baghdad were violations of the security pact, Moussawi said. The Iraqis told the Americans that they could conduct patrols only at night and only with permission from the Iraqis.
Minutes of the meeting read by an AP reporter, stated: “The Americans cannot move except from midnight until 5 a.m.”
“There were violations by Americans troops to the security pact on July 1 and 2. Their troops were roaming in Ur, Shaab and Taji,” al-Moussawi said. “The Baghdad operations command informed the American troops of these violations and they pulled out their vehicles immediately.”