(CNN) – The top U.S. military commander in Iraq says the Middle Eastern country is on its way to being ready for next year's planned withdrawal of remaining U.S. troops, but Gen. Ray Odierno is also sounding a cautionary note about the intentions of one of its key neighbors.
In an interview set to air Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union," Odierno gives his assessment of the readiness of Iraqi security forces and of the Iraqi people overall.
"My assessment today is … they will be [ready for next year's withdrawal]," Odierno says in the interview. "I think that they continue to grow. We continue to see development in planning, in their ability to conduct operations. We continue to see political development, economic development and all of these combined together will start to create an atmosphere that creates better security.
"And the Iraqi people are resilient. They want this. They want to have a democratic country. They want to be on their own. They want to move forward and be a contributor to stability in the Middle East."
In the same sit-down, Odierno says that neighboring Iran may not want Iraq to move in that direction.
"I think they don't want to see Iraq turn into a strong democratic country," the general says. "They'd rather see it become a weak governmental institution. So they don't add more problems for Iran in the future."
Earlier this week, the 4,000-member 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team departed Iraq in a move that many took to symbolize the end of U.S. combat operations in the country; the formal change in mission is set for September 1. After the 4th Stryker's departure, the U.S. military said the number of U.S. troops remaining in Iraq is about 52,000. That figure puts U.S. forces on track to draw down to 50,000 troops by September 1, when forces are to switch to an advise-and-assist role.