WASHINGTON (Stars and Stripes) — The top U.S. Army general who commanded troops during the invasion in Iraq lamented Tuesday the recapturing of two key Iraqi cities by al-Qaida linked militants and defended the U.S. withdrawal, but left the door open for a possible return of U.S. troops.
“It’s disappointed all of us to see the deterioration of security inside Iraq,” said Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army’s chief of staff, speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. The U.S. should use diplomacy to help Iraq regain control of its political process and work with its army on counterinsurgency against rebel factions, he said, instead of sending in American troops. But he didn’t rule out that option.
“I think it’s time for them to step up and see what they can do,” he said. “We have to just wait to see … if it becomes part of our national security interest to put people on the ground.”
Two days earlier, Secretary of State John F. Kerry clearly rejected the notion of re-engagement: “This is a fight that belongs to the Iraqis.”
Iraq occupies a strategic location in the Middle East and maintaining a strong partnership with the country is a key goal as the United States seeks to maintain stability in the region.
Odierno’s comments come as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has emerged as one of strongest rebel units in Iraq. The militants recently gained control of Fallujah and part of Ramadi, where U.S. troops saw the heaviest fighting during the Iraq War.