Troop reductions in Iraq next year?

We’ve heard this before. As we recently recalled, official optimism on troop reductions in Iraq should give anyone who is paying attention a sense of deja vu. Even under the most optimistic scenario—credited to a “secret memo” and never officially acknowledged—the foreign troop presence in Iraq is to drop from the current 170,000 to “just” (as this account says) 66,000 next year. That is still double the number Bush pledged they would be dropped to within four months at the time “major combat operations” ended in May 2003. There are more troops in Iraq now than there were then. Via TruthOut:

US Aims to Sharply Cut Iraq Force within a Year
By Peter Graff

Wednesday 27 July 2005

The United States hopes to sharply reduce its forces in Iraq by the middle of next year if all goes according to plan, its top commander on the ground said on Wednesday.

But underscoring the challenges faced by the new Iraqi government, al Qaeda in Iraq said it had killed two Algerian envoys kidnapped last week in a spate of attacks that are driving diplomats out of Baghdad.

At a briefing with visiting Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, General George Casey said he expected troop cuts after a referendum on a new constitution due in October and an election for a new leader in December.

“I do believe that if the political process continues to go positively, if the developments with the (Iraqi) security forces continue to go as it is going, I do believe we will still be able to make fairly substantial reductions after these elections – in the spring and summer of next year,” he said.

It appeared to be the first time since the insurgency worsened in April that top Pentagon officials have suggested a timeline for withdrawal.

Casey’s remarks came as a new poll showed most Americans think the United States will lose the war in Iraq.

Early this year Casey made a similar prediction, but U.S. officials have avoided suggesting a timetable since violence worsened sharply after the new government took power in April.

Hours later a suicide bomber blew himself up at the entrance to a Baghdad hospital, killing at least five people and wounding 10, police sources said.

Although many Iraqis resent the presence of U.S. troops, they fear an escalation in suicide bombings, shootings and kidnappings, and possibly civil war, if the Americans pull out before Iraqi forces can stand up to the Sunni-led insurgency.

Algeria confirmed on Wednesday that its two envoys were dead, after a statement posted on a Web site often used by the group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi said they had been killed.

“The hostage-takers have cowardly assassinated our two representatives in Baghdad, Ali Belaroussi and Azzedine Belkadi, thus carrying out their despicable threats despite all the appeals…” President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s office said.

The authenticity of the statement from al Qaeda in Iraq claiming responsibility could not be verified and it was not accompanied by a video. Earlier this month, the group said it had kidnapped and killed Egyptian mission chief Ihab el-Sherif.

Americans Dubious on War

President Bush said in a primetime speech last month he would withdraw American forces as soon as Iraqis were prepared to take over responsibility for security. But he said it would be dangerous to announce a timetable.

A British government memo leaked this month said Washington had a plan to cut the foreign presence in Iraq from more than 170,000 troops to just 66,000 by mid 2006. London confirmed the memo was genuine but said it reflected only one possible plan.

During a joint news conference with Rumsfeld, Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari repeated Iraqi assertions that the Americans should start to leave as soon as Iraqis are ready. But he said no one wanted to see a surprise pullout.

A USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll published in USA Today said 32 percent of respondents believed the United States could not win the war in Iraq. Another 21 percent said it was possible the United States could win but they did not believe it would.

Just 43 percent said they were confident of victory.

The poll was the first to report a majority of Americans – 51 percent – believed the government deliberately misled the public about the presence of banned weapons in Iraq. Still, most believed it was right to go to war to topple Saddam Hussein.

Rumsfeld, making his tenth trip to Iraq since the war began, urged Iraqis to finish drafting their constitution by an Aug. 15 deadline. “We don’t want any delays,” Rumsfeld told reporters. “Now’s the time to get on with it.”

The committee drafting the constitution resumed work on Tuesday after Sunni Arabs – the 20 percent minority community – ended a six-day boycott that began when one of their committee members was gunned down last week.

The committee’s chairman, Humam Hamoudi, said on Wednesday committee members would meet on Aug. 1 to decide whether to ask for a six-month extension. This would push back the entire process by six months, meaning elections currently penciled in for the end of the year would not happen until mid-2006.

That would be a severe blow to Washington, which is keen to keep Iraq to a tight schedule in its transition to democracy.

Violence in Iraq continued on Wednesday unabated. Three Iraqis were killed and 37 injured when a mortar round fell on Baghdad’s main Allawi bus station.

Iraq’s defense ministry said seven of its soldiers had died in an attack by gunmen on Tuesday at a water purification station north of Baghdad. The U.S. army said four American soldiers were killed over the weekend by a roadside bomb.

South of Baghdad, Iraqi police commandos claimed a success, capturing an Egyptian allied to Ayman al-Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s number two, during a raid. They said the detainee, Hamdi Tantawi, was responsible for funding attacks in the area.

Casey said the level of attacks mounted by insurgents had not increased substantially over the past year. “I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily a stalemate,” he said. “Insurgencies need to progress to survive. And this insurgency is not progressing.”

See our last post on Iraq.

  1. Al-Jaafari calls for withdrawal timetable
    Via TruthOut:

    Iraq Wants Quick Withdrawal of US Troops
    The Associated Press

    Wednesday 27 July 2005

    Baghdad – Iraq’s transitional prime minister called Wednesday for a speedy withdrawal of US troops and the top US commander here said he believed a “fairly substantial” pullout could begin next spring and summer.

    Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said at a joint news conference with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld that the time has arrived to plan a coordinated transition from American to Iraqi military control throughout the country.

    Asked how soon a US withdrawal should happen, he said no exact timetable had been set. “But we confirm and we desire speed in that regard,” he said, speaking through a translator. “And this fast pace has two aspects.”

    First, there must be a quickening of the pace of US training of Iraqi security forces, and second there must be closely coordinated planning between the US-led military coalition and the emerging Iraq government on a security transition, he said.

    “We do not want to be surprised by a withdrawal that is not in connection with our Iraqi timing,”‘ he said.

    Speaking earlier with US reporters traveling with Rumsfeld, Gen. George Casey, the top American commander in Iraq, said he believed a US troop withdrawal could begin by spring 2006 if progress continues on the political front and if the insurgency does not expand.

    Rumsfeld was planning to get a firsthand look at the training of Iraqi security forces by watching a demonstration by a group of Iraqi special forces soldiers using live ammunition at a training range run by American troops.

    US officials describe a variety of security forces being developed. Foremost is the Iraqi army, comprised mainly of infantry battalions, although there also are to be four tank battalions. The army now has about 77,000 soldiers, and it is scheduled to expand to about 85,000 by December. It includes “intervention forces,” to lead the Iraqi effort against the insurgency.

    There are now about 94,000 police, most for standard traffic and patrol work. That is to grow to about 145,000 by December, and it includes “special police” commando battalions as well as a mechanized police brigade that will be a paramilitary, counterinsurgency unit intended to deploy to high-risk areas using light armored personnel carriers.

    The organization in charge of training and equipping Iraqi security forces is the Multinational Security Transition Command, headed by Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, who last week was announced by the Pentagon as the next commander of the Army’s Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. He is to be replaced in Iraq by Maj. Gen. Martin Dempsey, who spent more than a year in Iraq as commander of the 1st Armored Division.