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1st US Troop Cutback Underway.

The first substantive reduction of US troops in Iraq has begun, as the first members of a brigade from Diyala Province have started to leave. Col. David Sutherland of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, whose soldiers have been working in Diyala since November 2006, says all 5,000 of his troops would be gone by mid-December. But because of continuing violence in Diyala, another brigade in the country will take the place of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team.

The replacement soldiers in late November were in Diyala taking over their new jobs. The replacement brigade, which had worked in Salahuddin Province to the north and west of Diyala, will leave quieter areas to the Iraqi Army and local citizen groups.

Rear Admiral Gregory Smith, spokesman for the US forces in Baghdad, on Nov. 24 said: "There is a 5,000 troop net decrease in theater. The redeployment without replacement reflects the overall improved security situation in Iraq". When this initial reduction is completed, the number of US troops will drop to about 157,000 from 162,000 in June, when the force in Iraq was at its peak. The top US commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, has said there will not be another troop increase and has pledged to bring home a total of five brigades by July 2008.

The military began increasing troops in Baghdad and surrounding areas last February to stop the cycle of violence in the capital. By June, an additional five brigades had been added to the roughly 130,000 troops already in Iraq.

US Hiring 10,000 Iraqi Neighbourhood Guards: The US military is to add about 10,000 people to its roster of unofficial security guards who act as paid neighbourhood watchdogs and will then cap the programme. The guards were hired by the tens of thousands earlier this year, when US forces offered tribal shaikhs money in exchange for tips about Neo-Salafi terrorist and other criminal activities. About 77,000 people - alternately called volunteers, concerned local citizens (CLCs), or members of awakening councils - have joined, the vast majority of them Sunnis.

The programme has been credited with helping to sharply drive down violence nationwide, but also has stirred concerns among Shi'ites that the Sunnis would use the money and training to reform militias. About 60,000 of the guards are paid $300 a month, while the rest are still in the process of being enrolled, according to Smith, who says: "Our intent was not to send the message that this was a job creation programme". He says the programme is to grow 10-15%. The military says it does not want the number of volunteers to exceed 100,000, a figure being neared.

The Iraqi government would start paying the guards' salaries sometime next year. Government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh on Nov. 26 said: "It is an Iraqi responsibility, this is the right thing to do, it is not an American responsibility. And at the same time, the loyalty of these people should be to Iraq". The American military also wants the programme to act as a bridge to funnel people into jobs with the Iraqi police or army. About a third of current enlistees have expressed interest in doing so, according to Smith, though just 2,000 have so far.

Gulf News on Nov. 30 quoted Maliki's adviser Haider al-Abadi as saying: "The US will not allow the ongoing Shi'ite militia's penetration in the Iraqi Army because they realise these militias are Iranian's striking force inside Iraq in case of any future American-Iranian conflict in the region". But Gulf News quoted Monthir al-Alousi, a senior officer in the former Iraqi army, as saying: "I think losing over 190,000 weapons from the Iraqi Interior Ministry's stores is solid evidence of Iran's loyal militias' influence in the Iraqi armed forces".

Two months ago special Iraqi army brigades acquired sophisticated weapons. The US equipped these brigades because they included trusted high-ranking Iraqi officers. Gulf News quoted Adel al-Zubaidi, a strategic analyst, as saying: "The main reason behind delaying the Iraqi forces armament is that the US fear military equipment may be handed over to Shi'ite militia loyal to Iran".

US reservations to supply weapons to the Iraqi Army caused a security problem on the ground. Armed Islamic groups, particularly al-Qaeda, took advantage to extend its power in Iraqi cities and neighbourhoods. Gulf News quoted Ayad al-Hamadani, professor of military science at al-Bakr University in Saddam's era, as saying: "Americans decided to set up and support a Sunni awakening force to confront al-Qaeda's growing influence. For decision-makers in the White House and the Pentagon, these forces will be the safety valve to counter Iran's influence in the Iraqi armed forces. I am certain the Sunni awakening forces will evolve in the future... Maliki and other Shi'ite political leaders are aware of this and are preparing to merge more Shi'ite militia elements in the Iraqi army and security forces; this move is in reply to America's decision to include Sunni armed men of the awakening forces". It quoted Aziz al-Rawi, an activist in the Sunni al-Ameria neighbourhood awakening force, as saying: "We will join the Iraqi Army so it remains loyal to Iraq and we will not allow elements loyal to Iran to stay in the army. I call this conflict an Iranian-Arab conflict not Iranian-American".
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Publication:APS Diplomat Fate of the Arabian Peninsula
Date:Dec 3, 2007
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