Leaving Iraq

Speedier Troop Withdrawal Possible

Defense Secretary Robert Gates returns to America after a two-day visit to Iraq with good news: He's ready to "modestly accelerate" the withdrawal of tens of thousands of American soldiers still stationed there. Recent Iraqi security force successes—including Tuesday's raid on an Iranian opposition group—suggest to Gates that the nation is increasingly able to police itself. According to The Washington Post, Gates wants to remove three combat brigades this year, up from the original plan for two to leave. Each brigade consists of about 5,000 soldiers. General Ray Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, could still nix Gates' plan, but the secretary said "I think there is at least some chance of a modest acceleration because of the way General Odierno sees things going." Delicate security operations are still under way in Iraq's oil-rich north, where Arabs and Kurds continue to clash. Gates met with Kurdish President Massoud Barzani during his trip, reminding Barzani of the amount regional leaders need to accomplish before the Americans leave permanently.