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ARAB-US RELATIONS - Sept 25 - US Forces In Iraq To Exceed 140,000.

US officials say that American troop levels in Iraq are likely to remain well above 140,000 for the next few months, although they will not confirm reports that the 3,500-strong First Armoured Division had been ordered to remain in Iraq beyond its official tour of duty. Growing sectarian conflict between Iraqi militias in the last few months and the continuation of the mostly Sunni insurgency against US forces has complicated the Bush administration's goal of "standing down as the Iraqis stand up". The overall US troop presence in Iraq has risen from 127,000 in July to 142,000 this week. Last week the US commander in the region John Abizaid, said that US troop deployment in Iraq was likely to remain at these levels well into 2007 in order to wrest Baghdad and other provinces from the day-to-day control of sectarian death squads and insurgent groups. In August, General Abizaid, the most senior Arab-American in uniform who has a reputation for being a straight talker, surprised many when he told the Senate armed services committee that Iraq could be heading towards civil war. This contradicted the Bush administration's view that the situation was gradually improving. As many as 20,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed in 2006 - although estimates vary drastically. "The Bush administration has complicated its task in Iraq by talking up the rhetoric at home of 'standing down as they stand up'", said Tony Cordesmann, a senior analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "But in practice Bush has responded to what the commanders are requesting on the ground, which is more troops and, to a lesser extent, more equipment". However, the increase in deployment comes amid growing complaints from senior generals about the overstretch of US military units, some of which have served more than one tour of duty in Iraq and also in Afghanistan, where US troop levels have also risen this year from 15,800 to 20,000 owing to the resurgence of Taliban forces. There are also concerns about pressure to send regular military and National Guard units back to Iraq within the one-year pause that is customary. In addition, the army and National Guard have both recently relaxed recruiting standards by raising the maximum age and improving the one-off cash payment as an incentive for new recruits. Worries about the Bush administration's handling of the increasingly unpopular war in Iraq intensified when the New York Times and Washington Post leaked contents of a classified US National Intelligence estimate from April that said America's invasion of Iraq in 2003 had exacerbated the threat from Islamist terrorist groups. The report, which was submitted to Bush in April, also said that the overall threat from Islamist terror groups had grown since 9/11 attacks. The disclosure comes just six weeks before critical mid-term elections, where Bush's Republicans face the threat of losing control of the House of Representatives. The opposition Democrats have fielded a number of Iraq war veterans in order to bolster their credibility as patriotic critics of the war in Iraq. Bush has ignored continuing calls by retired US generals - most recently on Monday - to sack Def Sec Donald Rumsfeld, over his handling of the war in Iraq.
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Publication:APS Diplomat Recorder
Date:Sep 30, 2006
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