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IRAQ - Pentagon Reducing Troops.

Rumsfeld, however, does not like long-term occupations and has always made that clear. After American forces took Baghdad in April 2003, he had plans to cut the US presence to 40,000 troops by the autumn of 2003. Then the insurgency struck. Now Rumsfeld is moving towards his goal, three years late.

The Pentagon has developed a detailed plan in recent months to scale down the US troop presence in Iraq to about 80,000 by mid-2006 and down to 40,000-60,000 troops by end-2006. This squares with a British Defence Ministry memo leaked in mid-July. That memo said: "Emerging US plans assume that 14 out of 18 provinces could be handed over to Iraqi control by early 2006, allowing a reduction in overall [US and coalition forces] from 176,000 down to 66,000". Gen. George Casey, the commander of US forces in Iraq, hinted at those numbers when Rumsfeld was in Baghdad on July 27.

Casey said the US will be "still able to take some fairly substantial reductions" if Iraq can keep to the timeline set out in the US-sponsored interim constitution, which calls for elections for a permanent Iraqi government by Dec. 15, 2005. After that, US officials believe, the main task of the US occupation will have been completed.

US officials denied that Casey's remarks represented any change in policy. But earlier this year the Pentagon had been mum on a withdrawal timetable, in part so as not to encourage the insurgents. Now the conditions for US withdrawal no longer include a defeated insurgency, Pentagon sources were last week quoted as saying.

The new US mantra is that the insurgency can be beaten only politically, by the success of Iraq's new government. Washington is said to be less concerned about the insurgents than the unwillingness of Iraq's politicians to make compromises for national unity. Newsweek of Aug. 8 said Pentagon planners wanted to send a "spine-stiffening" message: "the Americans won't be there forever. US domestic factors are forcing President Bush's hand. The Bush administration wants to preempt growing public pressure for withdrawal, which could give the insurgents a Vietnam-like strategic goal". US military planners, Newsweek added, "are deeply concerned about driving away Army careerists and recruits if current deployments are forced into 2007". Newsweek quoted retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey as saying: If the US Army has to do another rotation into Iraq in the autumn of 2006 to keep force levels up to their current 138,000, it "goes off a cliff".

The question is whether the insurgents will see the US plan as a rush to the doors. And whether they and Iraqi militias will come to dominate the country in the vacuum left by US forces, leading to civil war. A too-rapid withdrawal could even hand a victory to Salafi jihadists streaming into Iraq. Newsweek on Aug. 8 quoted Washington strategist Andrew Krepinevich as saying: "What we have is a plan of action for pulling our troops out, not a strategy for success. That's more of a Vietnam solution: 'Peace with honor'". Newsweek said: "The phrase proved hollow back then. The Pentagon is betting it will not this time".
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Publication:APS Diplomat Redrawing the Islamic Map
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 8, 2005
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