|08-22-2007, 12:49 AM|
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U.S. seems focused on reducing combat role next year
U.S. seems focused on reducing combat role next year
WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. military officials are narrowing the range of Iraq strategy options and appear to be focusing on reducing the U.S. combat role in 2008 while increasing training of Iraqi forces, a senior military official told The Associated Press on Monday.
The military has not yet developed a plan for a substantial withdrawal of forces next year. But officials are laying the groundwork for possible overtures to Turkey and Jordan on using their territory to move some troops and equipment out of Iraq, the official said. The main exit would remain Kuwait, but additional routes would make it easier and more secure for U.S. troops leaving western and northern Iraq.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because internal deliberations are ongoing, emphasized that the discussions do not prejudge decisions yet to be made by President Bush. Those decisions include how long to maintain the current U.S. troop buildup and when to make the transition to a larger Iraqi combat role.
It is widely anticipated that the five extra Army brigades that were sent to the Baghdad area this year will be withdrawn by late next summer. But it is far less clear whether the Bush administration will follow that immediately with additional drawdowns, as many Democrats in Congress are advocating.
Bush has mentioned publicly that he likes the idea, first proposed late last year by the Iraq Study Group, of switching the emphasis of U.S. military efforts from mainly combat to mainly support roles. But he also has said that this should not happen until Baghdad in particular is stable enough to enable Iraqi political leaders to make hard choices about reconciling rival interests among Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.
There are now 162,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, of which 30,000 have arrived since February as part of Bush's revised strategy to stabilize Baghdad and to push Iraqi leaders to build a government of national unity.
Military efforts to stabilize the country effort have made strides in recent months, but political progress has lagged.
In a joint statement Monday, Sens. John Warner, R-Va., and Carl Levin, D-Mich., said that while the military buildup has "produced some credible and positive results," the political outlook is darker. The senators said that during their visit to Iraq last week they told Iraqi leaders of American impatience with the lack of political progress, and "impressed upon them that time has run out in that regard."
In a separate telephone interview with reporters, Levin urged the Iraqi assembly to oust Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and replace his government with one that is less sectarian and more unifying.
Speaking to reporters in Washington by phone from Tel Aviv, Levin acknowledged that while there is broad frustration with the lack of action by the al-Maliki government, U.S. officials cannot dictate a change in leadership there. He said he and Warner did not meet with al-Maliki when they were in Iraq this time.
In response to Levin's remarks about dumping al-Maliki, Gordon Johndroe, spokesman for the National Security Council, noted that Iraqi leaders have been holding talks in recent days on ways to move toward a unified government.
"We urge them to come together, reach agreements and show the Iraqi people and the rest of the world their determination to create a stable and prosperous Iraq," Johndroe told reporters, adding that the administration believes al-Maliki is capable of moving the talks to a successful conclusion.
Under pressure even from members of his own party to change direction in Iraq, Bush is expected to decide his next steps after hearing in September from Gen. David Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker, on what the U.S. troop buildup has accomplished.
Petraeus and Crocker are likely to present their views to Congress on Sept. 11 or 12, said Johndroe, the National Security Council spokesman. Johndroe said White House officials are consulting with congressional leaders this week on setting a date for the testimony.
Bush also will receive advice and recommendations from Defense Secretary Robert Gates as well as the Joint Chiefs and Adm. William Fallon, the top commander for American forces in the Middle East.
Bush's options are limited, politically and practically. The Army and Marine Corps do not have the capacity to increase troop levels, or even to maintain the current number beyond next spring. With the 2008 presidential election approaching, it's not so much a question of whether troop levels will be cut but when and how much.
U.S. commanders in Iraq believe they are making substantial progress toward stabilizing Baghdad and other contested parts of the country — including in Anbar province in western Iraq where the insurgency has weakened noticeably this year. But they are dubious about the ability of Iraq's political leaders to take advantage of the improved security in ways that promote political reconciliation.
Petraeus and other senior commanders have said in recent weeks that the U.S. troop buildup will end in 2008, but Petraeus has not yet recommended a follow-on strategy to Bush. Much depends on judgments about how soon Iraqi security forces will be ready to assume a bigger role, as well as the likelihood of political progress.
Speaking on Monday to a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Kansas City, Mo., Petraeus said Americans should not underestimate the efforts of the Iraqi army and police.
In some areas, partnerships between U.S. forces and Iraqi soldiers are "quite robust," Petraeus said. He noted that Iraqi losses have been three times as high as those suffered by the U.S.-led coalition.
"There should be no question that Iraqi soldiers and police are dying for their country," Petraeus said.
|08-22-2007, 06:37 AM||#2|
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It's pretty much a foregone conclusion that the surge will be drawn down by sometime next year at the latest. Expect to hear the democrat presidential candidates taking credit for this "change of direction" LOL
Here's another article about the emerging situation in Iraq:
Iraqi PM tells Sunni tribes: 'We must unite'
BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraq's prime minister, a Shiite, flew to Saddam Hussein's hometown Friday and told Sunni tribal chieftains that all Iraqis must unite in the fight to crush al-Qaeda in Iraq and extremist Shiite militias "to save our coming generations."
With the U.S. Congressional majority increasingly antsy to get out of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki's bold incursion into Tikrit — a city once pampered by Saddam, its favorite son — underlined the prime minister's determination to save his paralyzed government from collapse and prevent further disillusionment in Washington.
The sharp alteration of political course — a willingness to travel to the belly of the Sunni beast and talk with former enemies — suggested a new flexibility from the hardline religious Shiite.
"There is more uniting us than dividing us," he told sheiks in Tikrit, 80 miles north of Baghdad. "We do not want to allow al-Qaeda and the militias to exist for our coming generations. Fighting terrorism gives us a way to unite."
Maliki's turnaround has been startling, given charges of a bias in favor of his Shiite sect.
He owed his premiership to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, nominal head of the aggressive Mahdi Army militia that has cleansed entire mixed Baghdad neighborhoods of Sunni residents.
Throughout his first year in office, he sought to protect the fighters from U.S. raids on their Sadr City stronghold in eastern Baghdad. He no longer does after Sadr loyalists quit the Cabinet because Maliki refused to set a timetable for an American withdrawal.
The prime minister reportedly engaged in heated arguments with U.S. commander Gen. David Petraeus when the U.S. military began signing on former Sunni insurgents in the fight against al-Qaeda in Anbar Province in Iraq's west and Diyala province, north of the capital.
He's now courting Sunni tribes to join him.
And on Thursday, the prime minister signed a political manifesto, creating a new alliance with the Shiite Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council and the country's two main Kurdish political parties.
The Supreme Council has its own militia, the Badr Brigade, which is fighting Maliki's erstwhile Mahdi Army clients across Baghdad and in the Shiite heartland to the south.
The dramatic shift signals Maliki's fear of a quick U.S. troop withdrawal and his desperation to show progress on political reconciliation before Petraeus and American Ambassador Ryan Crocker report to Congress next month.
U.S. officials in Baghdad and Washington did not immediately signal support for the new alliance, with a senior diplomat saying its lack of Sunni participation was a significant problem.
But President Jalal Talabani, one of the signers of the new alliance manifesto, appeared puzzled Friday by the lack of U.S. enthusiasm.
"I don't hear any American welcome for the new alliance," he said at a news conference, arguing that the U.S.-backed Iraqi constitution was partly to blame for the political paralysis.
Late Thursday, U.S. troops clashed with suspected Sunni insurgents holed up in a mosque north of Baghdad and launched an air-to-ground Hellfire missile into the structure. One American soldier was killed in the fighting, the military said.
The soldier was killed and another wounded when troops stationed at a nearby were fired on from the Honest Mohammed Mosque in Tarmiyah. The soldiers were after six insurgents who were believed sheltered inside, according to the military.
The U.S. forces surrounded the mosque district and sent the Sunni mosque's groundskeeper into the building to persuade those inside to come out, the military said.
"About 20 left the mosque and stated there was no one left in the mosque. This was not true," said Lt. Col. Michael Donnelly, a military spokesman for northern Iraq. The 20 were detained.
The missile was fired at the mosque after troops spotted gunmen on the roof, Donnelly said. A police officer and a witness, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they feared retribution, said U.S. troops stationed near the mosque were shot at before sunset prayers and were starting their raid as worshippers left the building after the services. The missile left a hole in the minaret, they said. The military said the roof of the mosque sustained minor damage.
Because of religious sensitivities, U.S. forces generally avoid entering mosques, instead providing a cordon while allied Iraqi security forces search the buildings. But the military claims Shiite and Sunni militants use that to advantage and take refuge in mosques and store weapons in them.
Tarmiyah, a predominantly Sunni town 30 miles north of Baghdad, was the site of a coordinated attack involving a suicide car bombing and gunfire against a U.S. base in mid-February. Two soldiers were killed and 17 wounded in that ambush.
South of the capital, a Badr Brigade leader, Sheik Hamid al-Khudhari, was elected governor of Qadasiyah province, council member Ghanim Abid Dahash said, after the previous governor was killed along with the provincial police chief in an ambush Aug. 11.
One other U.S. soldier was killed and two wounded Friday in a roadside bombing in eastern Baghad. The deaths raised to at least 3,706 members of the U.S. military who have died since the Iraq war started in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
They also pushed the overall number of members of the U.S.-led coalition who have died since the war started to at least 4,000.
The British military has reported 168 deaths; Italy, 33; Ukraine, 18; Poland, 21; Bulgaria, 13; Spain, 11; Denmark, seven; El Salvador, five; Slovakia, four; Latvia, three; Estonia, Netherlands, Thailand, two each; and Australia, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Romania, South Korea, one death each.
"I'll see you guys in New York." ISIS Caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to US military personnel upon his release from US custody at Camp Bucca in Iraq during Obama's first year in office.
|08-22-2007, 08:21 AM||#3|
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