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U.S./World

Iraq restricts U.S. troops

| Sunday, July 19, 2009

BAGHDAD — The Iraqi government has moved to sharply restrict the movement and activities of American forces in a new reading of a six-month-old U.S.-Iraqi security agreement that has startled American commanders and raised concerns about the safety of their troops.

In a curt missive issued by the Baghdad Operations Command on July 2 — the day after Iraqis celebrated the withdrawal of U.S. troops to bases outside city centers — Iraq's top commanders told their American counterparts to "stop all joint patrols" in Baghdad. It said resupply convoys could travel only at night and ordered the Americans to "notify us immediately of any violations of the agreement."

The strict application of the agreement coincides with what military officials in Washington say has been an escalation of attacks against their forces by Iranian-backed Shiite extremist groups, to which they have been unable to fully respond.

If extremists realize "some of the limitations that we have, that's a vulnerability they could use against us," a senior military intelligence official said. "The fact is that some of these are very politically sensitive targets" thought to be close to the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

The new guidelines are a reflection of rising tensions between the two governments. Iraqi leaders increasingly see the agreement as an opportunity to show their citizens that they are now unequivocally in charge and that their dependence on the Americans is minimal and waning.

The June 30 deadline for moving U.S. troops out of Iraqi towns and cities was the first of three milestones under the agreement. The military is to decrease its troop levels from 130,000 to 50,000 by August of next year.

American commanders have described the pullout from cities as a transition from combat to stability operations.

But they have kept several combat battalions assigned to urban areas and hoped those troops would remain deeply engaged in training Iraqi security forces, meeting with paid informants, attending local council meetings and supervising American-funded civic and reconstruction projects.

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