BAGHDAD (Reuters) - U.S. troops may have to stay in Iraq’s third largest city, Mosul, beyond a June 30 deadline, the spokesman for U.S. forces in Iraq said on Friday.
A bilateral deal reached last year calls for all U.S. combat troops to pull out of Iraq’s towns and cities by June 30 and for all U.S. soldiers to leave Iraq by the end of 2011.
Some analysts have doubted the feasibility of a withdrawal so soon from Mosul, which is still plagued by an active insurgency pitting U.S. and Iraqi forces against al Qaeda and other militants, even as violence declines elsewhere in Iraq.
“Attacks have gone down a bit but it is one of the areas that we still have a lot of activity in,” Major-General David Perkins told journalists in Baghdad.
Militants stage deadly attacks almost every day in Mosul, 390 km (240 miles) north of Baghdad.
On Friday, gunmen killed an off-duty police officer near his home in eastern Mosul and the bodyguard of a Kurdish politician was shot dead in a separate incident.
Last month, five U.S. soldiers were killed in a suicide attack in Mosul, the single most deadly attack on American forces in more than a year.
“So it is quite honestly ... the one area where you are most likely to possibly see a decision for U.S. forces to remain there, probably more so than any other place, just based on the activity there (and) the capability of Iraqi security forces,” Perkins said.
“It will be a military decision based on what the Iraqis want us to do ... only if the Iraqis decide that.”
Perkins said al Qaeda were now focused on Baghdad and Mosul for strategic reasons and a spate of bombings in Baghdad that have killed at least 150 people in a little over a week signalled the group was trying to stage a comeback.
“Last summer, they used to be more spread out through Iraq ... over time they’re becoming concentrated mainly in Mosul and Baghdad,” he said.
“For al Qaeda to win, they have to win Baghdad; for them to survive, they have to hold on to Mosul.”
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