US to push on with Iraq withdrawal after poll
AMERICA'S military commander in Iraq has said 50,000 troops will be withdrawn from the country this summer after the smooth running of elections at the weekend.
General Ray Odierno said he would push ahead with plans to reduce numbers by the end of August and for a complete pull-out by the end of next year.
"As I look at it today, we think we're on track to be down to 50,000," he said. "There's nothing today that tells us that we don't think the Iraqis will be able to form this government in a peaceful way."
Both Iraqi and US leaders have been relieved at the relatively calm atmosphere in Iraq's major cities before and during the election. The wave of bombings that killed 38 people on polling day on Sunday and several dozen more in the weeks beforehand was not as bad as feared.
Early indications suggested a close race between the two leading coalitions and the potential for a long standoff as the winner tries to negotiate with smaller parties to form a government. But Washington will be heartened at an apparently poorer showing for an Islamist grouping, many of whose members have close ties to Iran and to Shia militias, which had been tipped to perform very well.
Election officials reported the State of Law coalition of Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister and pre-election favourite, was ahead in half the country's provinces. Mr Maliki's grouping is largely Shia and, although it claims to be cross-sectarian, has its power base in the Shia southern areas. A win for Mr Maliki or the Iraqiya nationalist grouping of former prime minister Ayad Allawi would be regarded as acceptable by the US.
The Shia Islamists of the Iraqi National Alliance were expected to do well in poor areas such as Baghdad's two-million strong, impoverished Sadr city, the power base of the Mahdi army of Moqtada al-Sadr. (© Daily Telegraph, London)