U.S. forces are already out of the cities in Iraq, ahead of the Tuesday deadline, the head of U.S. military operations in Iraq told "FOX News Sunday."
About 130,000 U.S. troops still remain in Iraq, but Gen. Ray Odierno said that the military has already fallen back to let the Iraqis take the lead in running security for their country.
"It is time for them to take responsibility inside the cities," Odierno said. "It's time for this partnership to have an Iraqi lead, it's time for this partnership to have the Iraqis out in front."
Odierno said U.S. troops still will be training and advising Iraqi forces and Americans will be conducting operations outside Iraqi cities after the deadline. U.S. forces are expected to withdraw from the country by the end of 2010 as part of a U.S.-Iraqi security agreement.
Odierno said that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's recent harsh rhetoric against the coalition forces that freed the country from Saddam Hussein is nothing more than that. He said the Iraqis recognize the partnership the U.S. and Iraq made "through the surge, through the dark days" and are aware of the sacrifice.
He added that his biggest concern as the U.S. falls back are "potential political drivers of instability," particularly disputes between Iraqis and minority Kurds and reconciliation between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.
"It is these political isses that will be the most important as we move to the national elections," he said. "My hope is it will be solved through politics and diplomatic measures and not through violence."
Odierno added that he had no expectation Iran would fill in the gaps left by the U.S. departure.
"I'm sure that some people have those fears. My assessment here is that the Iraqis want to have their own destiny ... They will not allow anyone else to come in here and fill the gap instead."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.