The U.S. military has prepared contingency plans to delay the planned withdrawal of all combat forces in Iraq, citing the prospects for political instability and increased violence as Iraqis hold national elections next month.
Under a deadline set by President Obama, all combat forces are slated to withdraw from Iraq by the end of August, and there remains heavy political pressure in Washington and Baghdad to stick to that schedule. But Army Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said Monday that he had briefed officials in Washington in the past week about possible contingency plans.
Odierno declined to describe the plans in detail and said he was optimistic they would not be necessary. But he said he was prepared to make the changes "if we run into problems" in the coming months.
Iraqis are scheduled to go to the polls March 7 for parliamentary elections that Iraqi and U.S. officials describe as a political milestone for the country.
With less than two weeks to go in the campaign, however, concern is rising over whether the results will be undermined by political boycotts, low turnout or an increase in bloodshed. Religious enmities and rivalries are already resurfacing.
The above article was published in the Washington Post on February 23rd, 2010.