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Trust only movement. Life happens at the level of events, not of words. Trust movement.

&mdash Alfred Adler (1870-1937)

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Apple pie-in-the-sky.

CanWest News is running coverage of the latest news on American troop withdrawal: apparently, even the Republican-controlled Senate is getting tired of the spit-and-bubblegum, ad-hoc approach to Iraq and is demanding quarterly updates on the war's progress.

(Quarterly updates? And this is supposed to be strict? I'd give my eyeteeth for a creditor who was that strict: "Yeah, I'm not going to pay you anything right now, but in about three months I'll give you a progress report on my savings plan -- okay? Cool.")

Plans include a significant reduction in troop strength by the end of next year and a scaling-up of the Iraqis' paramilitary policing duties. Get the NewSpeak version here:

U.S. Signals 2006 troop pullback
Iraq war criticism grows: Proposal calls for one-third drop by end of next year

Sheldon Alberts, CanWest News Service
Thursday, November 24, 2005

WASHINGTON - U.S. military officials are eyeing plans to withdraw more than 60,000 troops from Iraq by the end of 2006 amid growing pressure from Americans for an end to the war and rising anxiety among Republican lawmakers seeking re-election.

After spending weeks accusing war critics of advocating a "cut and run" policy in Iraq, senior Bush administration officials are now publicly setting the stage for a sharp drawdown of U.S. forces, beginning early next year.

"I do not think that American forces need to be there in the numbers that they are now for very much longer because Iraqis are stepping up," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Fox News Channel.

In separate remarks to CNN, Ms. Rice rejected an "arbitrary timetable" for bringing troops home, but said "the number of coalition forces is clearly going to come down because Iraqis are making it possible now to do those functions themselves."

Ms. Rice's comments signal an abrupt shift in tone by the Bush administration, which was upbraided by the Senate last week for not moving quickly enough on an exit strategy for Iraq.

In a bipartisan measure, senators voted to require quarterly updates from the Bush administration on the war's progress. The Senate also pressed for Iraqis to assume the lead military role in the country in 2006, "thereby creating the conditions for the phased redeployment of the United States from Iraq."

With political tensions over the war and the strain of U.S. combat forces growing, senior U.S. military officials have quietly leaked details of preliminary troop withdrawal plans in the past week.

General George Casey, the top American military commander in Iraq, has submitted a plan to Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that would see the number of U.S. forces drop by one-third, from 155,000 to between 90,000 and 100,000 by late 2006. One senior officer has described the plan as "moderately optimistic."

The plan hinges on the success of elections for a permanent Iraqi parliament on Dec. 15 and continuing improvement in the training and combat readiness of Iraqi security forces.

In a report yesterday quoting senior Pentagon officials, The Washington Post said the initial phase of troop redeployment would see the withdrawal of three of the current 18 combat brigades early next year. The proposal would reportedly see one of those brigades redeployed to neighbouring Kuwait, where it could quickly be sent back to Iraq if the situation deteriorates.

The United States has operated with a baseline of 138,000 troops for much of 2005, but the number of soldiers was increased to 155,000 to provide added security for the October referendum on a new constitution and the upcoming parliamentary vote.

There is growing speculation in Washington that President George W. Bush could announce the first withdrawals -- of perhaps a handful of army battalions, each of about 2,000 soldiers -- in his State of the Union address in late January.

"I wouldn't be surprised if he makes an announcement then, depending on what happens in December with the next round of the political liberalization in Iraq," said Lee Edwards, an expert in the U.S. presidency at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington.

"He is going to have this enormous TV audience. He has an opportunity to state his case, to lay out what he wants to do in the next three years. It is probably the most important speech he will be making this term."

The plan for a troop withdrawal, which has to be approved by Mr. Rumsfeld, carries significant risk for both U.S. forces and Iraq's stability. Although Gen. Casey and other senior officers say Iraq's security forces are rapidly increasing their capabilities, only one of 96 battalions has been deemed ready to operate without help from American or other coalition forces.

The speed of U.S. troop withdrawal will depend on the ability of Iraqi forces to hold territory, Ms. Rice said.

"I think that's how the President will want to look at this," she said.

"We had some false starts in the training of security forces. Everybody knows that. But I do think there's a general agreement that the Iraqis are now capable of doing things, like holding on to cities, that they were simply not capable of doing even several months ago."

There is growing pressure, too, for a U.S. pullout by Iraqi politicians. Iraqi Shiites, Sunni and Kurdish politicians ended a reconciliation summit this week by calling for the "withdrawal of foreign troops on a specified timetable."

Domestic politics in the United States may also play a significant role in dictating the pace of any U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq. All members of the House of Representatives, and one-third of senators, will be up for re-election in November, 2006.

The pressure from voters has jumped sharply since the United States recorded its 2,000th military fatality in Iraq last month. The death toll of American troops stood at 2,097 yesterday.


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