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'Subtle shift' to US role in Iraq

Gen Raymond Odierno assumes command of US forces in Iraq at a ceremony in Baghdad (16/9/2008)
Gen Odierno said troops must continue to treat Iraqis with the 'utmost dignity'

The commander of the US military in Iraq has written to troops to announce a "subtle shift" in how they conduct operations in the country.

Gen Raymond Odierno's move follows the signing last week by the Iraqi government of a deal that will see US troops leave the country by 2011.

He said the US would continue to engage in combat but all operations would be approved by the Iraqi government.

The US currently has about 150,000 military personnel deployed in Iraq.

Gen Odierno, who assumed command of the US forces in Iraq in September, said the Status of Armed Forces Agreement would "require a subtle shift in how we plan, coordinate and execute combat missions throughout Iraq".

He said the US would coordinate all operations with the Iraqi government and would "conduct all operations by, with and through the Iraqi security forces".

Gen Odierno said the US would continue to focus on combating al-Qaeda and other groups but "must do so with respect for the Iraqi constitution and laws".

"We must continue to treat all Iraqi citizens with the utmost dignity and honour," he added.

Gen Odierno stressed there would "not be any reduction in our fundamental ability to protect ourselves and the force".

Under the deal, which had been fiercely opposed by some Iraqis, US troops will leave Iraqi streets by mid-2009 and will quit the country entirely by the end of 2011.

Iraq's government has hailed the agreement as the prelude to the return of full sovereignty to the country.

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