A truck bombing in northern Iraq killed five U.S. soldiers and two Iraqi policemen today, making it the deadliest attack on U.S. soldiers in 13 months—and adding to concerns that violence in some parts of the country is on the upswing just as the United States tries to begin withdrawing from the country.
The attack, which took place at the Iraqi National Police Headquarters in Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, comes on the heels of a particularly bloody few days. Most of the violence had been focused in Baghdad, where more than 50 people were killed in bombings this week. One of those attacks took place just hours before a surprise visit by President Barack Obama, who stopped in Iraq on his way back from Europe and discussed his planned drawdown with U.S. commanders. "Overall, violence continues to be down. There's been movement on important political questions," the president told reporters on the stop. "But we have been reminded that there's more work to do."
Mosul has been one of the last urban hotbeds for Iraqi insurgents. The city has proved a conundrum for the U.S. military for months, with attacks continuing there even as violence in many other parts of the country decreased. Mosul was also the site for this year's second-deadliest attack against American forces, which occurred when a suicide bomber killed four U.S. soldiers and an interpreter in February.
Under these conditions, some have questioned the June 30 deadline set by Iraqis and the United States for U.S. withdrawal from the city. That includes Iraq's top U.S. commander, Gen. Raymond Odierno, who said in a recent interview that American troops may have to stay after that deadline in Mosul and the city of Baqubah to continue to stave off insurgencies there.
Continuing violence has also created concern about Obama's withdrawal plan. The president recently announced that combat troops would be brought home by Aug. 31, 2010, except for 35,000 to 50,000 soldiers who would stay through 2011 to manage the transition. "I've made it clear to my commanders that we need to be flexible but focused on training and equipping Iraqi security forces so that they can take the lead," Obama told reporters in Baghdad. "And the drawdown that will take place will ultimately result in the removal of all U.S. troops by 2011."
The president has emphasized that this must be done in a responsible way to avoid "a complete collapse into violence," as he told students in Istanbul this week. But with attacks continuing in deadly spurts even as U.S. troops are in the country, some worry about what that collapse could look like once they are gone.