Iraq's indecision on whether to ask American forces to stay beyond the end of the year is pushing the US close to the point where a smooth, safe troop withdrawal will be jeopardized, the top US military officer said today upon arriving in the country. Adm. Mike Mullen said that American and Iraqi operations over the last several weeks have tamped down a recent surge in violence there, but he's not sure how long that will last. "Now is the time. We have to know," Mullen told reporters just before landing in Mosul.
The US is nearly at the point where it will be difficult to pull forces out while still providing support and advice to the Iraqis, maintain security, and keep the troops protected, he said. His visit comes as the US is growing increasingly frustrated with Iraqi leaders' failure to agree on whether they will ask American troops to remain in the country beyond the end of the year, when all but a small contingent of forces are required to leave under an agreement signed in 2008. Mullen was more restrained about the indecision on the troop issue than Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who called for swift action when he was in Baghdad last month, and chafed, "Damn it, make a decision." (Click to read an official US watchdog's poor review of the government transition.)