The Iraqi government cast doubt Monday on the possibility that American troops will remain in urban trouble spots like Mosul after the June 30 deadline for U.S. forces to withdraw from cities.
An uptick of violence in recent weeks has prompted concern about whether Iraqi forces are prepared to take over responsibility for security. U.S. commanders have pointed to Mosul and areas in the volatile province of Diyala north of the capital as possible exceptions to the withdrawal plans.
The Defense Ministry spokesman, Maj. Gen. Mohammed al-Askari, however, said U.S. troops must leave by the agreed deadline and could return only with permission from the Iraqi government.
"The general position of the Iraq Defense Ministry is to keep the timings in the withdrawal pact that American troops withdraw from Iraqi cities and not enter the cities unless they get Iraqi approval," al-Askari said.
U.S. and Iraqi commanders will make recommendations to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who will decide whether to grant exceptions to the U.S.-Iraqi security pact that set the deadline.
Insurgents active in Mosul
Sunni insurgents remain active in Mosul, 225 miles (360 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, and Diyala province south of Mosul despite numerous U.S.-Iraqi military operations. The U.S. military has called Mosul the last urban stronghold of al-Qaida in Iraq.
The main U.S. base in Mosul is effectively on the outskirts of the city, raising the question of whether it could be considered outside the city limits as is the case with Camp Victory, which houses the main American military headquarters on the western edge of Baghdad.
Al-Askari said Mosul has adequate security, saying two Iraqi army divisions are guarding the city.
"If we need the support of American troops, we will recall them with Iraqi governmental approval," he said.
The security agreement, which took effect Jan. 1, requires American troops to leave the country entirely by the end of 2011. President Barack Obama has announced plans to withdraw combat troops by Aug. 31, 2010, leaving 30,000 to 50,000 personnel in advisory and training roles.
Violence in Iraq remains at some of the lowest levels since the months following the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. But Baghdad and other cities have seen a series of deadly suicide bombings in recent weeks.
Gen. Raymond Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, has not specifically said whether U.S. troops would leave by the deadline, but said that any exception would have to be made by al-Maliki.
Raid called violation of pact
The security agreement faced its first major test Sunday when U.S. troops staged a pre-dawn raid in the southern Shiite city of Kut that ended with two people killed and six detained.
Al-Maliki called the raid a "crime" and a "violation of the security pact."
The U.S. military released the six detainees and sent a commander to apologize in a bid to tone down the dispute.
But one of the men who had been detained demanded justice Monday. Sheik Ahmed Abdul-Munim said his wife and his brother had been killed and he could not accept the U.S. apology.
"We want to prosecute the soldiers who killed our loved ones," he said.
He said American troops questioned him and five other male relatives about suspects, then put hoods over their heads and took them elsewhere for further interrogation. He said the investigator was polite and offered breakfast, then released the six after learning the soldiers apparently went to the wrong house.