There has been said plenty of words about the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. The Christian Science Monitor tried to make the full analyses of media reports and politicians’ statements about the presence of US troops in Iraq. The conclusion was the following: media reports say that Americans will leave Iraq soon, but some leading GOP senators say it's too early to plan and to call final dates.
The US commander in Iraq has drafted a plan that calls for steep reductions in the size of US forces in Iraq by 2007, according to a report Sunday in The New York Times.
The report of the plan comes a few days after a contentious vote in the US Senate, where a move by Democrats to create just such a timetable for withdrawal was defeated by Republicans, who said withdrawing troops on a set schedule would play into the insurgents' hands.
According to a classified briefing at the Pentagon this week by the commander, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the number of American combat brigades in Iraq is projected to decrease to 5 or 6 from the current level of 14 by December 2007.
Under the plan, the first reductions would involve two combat brigades that would rotate out of Iraq in September without being replaced. Military officials do not typically characterize reductions by total troop numbers, but rather by brigades. Combat brigades, which generally have about 3,500 troops, do not make up the bulk of the 127,000-member American force in Iraq, and other kinds of units would not be pulled out as quickly.
The White House said, however, that Gen. Casey "did not present a formal plan for Bush's approval but rather a concept of how the United States might move forward after consulting with Iraqi authorities." The Los Angeles Times reports that other officials said no final decisions had been made about troops levels, and that the "outline would probably serve as the basis for future planning."
The New York Times also reported that even if plans go ahead to reduce troops levels in Iraq, the US military presence in the dangerous and troubled western section of the country will remain at current levels.
"I see no reductions in American forces in Al Anbar into next year, at least through next summer, because of the restiveness there," said Lt. Gen. John F. Sattler, who oversees marines in the Middle East and Central Asia. "Al Anbar is going to be one of the last provinces to be stabilized," General Sattler said in a telephone interview from western Iraq, where he is visiting marines as well as American and Iraqi commanders.
The report almost immediately became a political football in the run up to this year's US midterm elections. The Detroit News reports that Democrats on Capitol Hill immediately seized on news of the cutbacks as vindication of their position in last week's Senate debate.
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) of Calif. said the plan attributed to Casey resembled the thinking of many Democrats who voted for a nonbinding resolution to begin a troop drawdown this December. That resolution was defeated on a largely party-line vote in the Senate on Thursday.
Sen. Carl Levin (D) of Detroit, one of the two sponsors of the nonbinding resolution – which offered no pace or completion date for a withdrawal – said on Fox News Sunday that the report was another sign of what he termed one of the "worst-kept secrets in town," that the administration intends to pull troops out before the midterm elections in November.
But two key Republican senators downplayed the importance of such a plan on Sunday. The Washington Post reports that the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Richard Lugar (R) of Indiana, was skeptical that the conditions are right in Iraq for the US to be able to implement any plan of a withdrawal.
"Given current events in Baghdad, in particular, reported on every day quite apart from Anbar province, the violence is horrific," he said on "Face the Nation." "So getting to the plans either of General Casey or [Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-] Maliki are a broad sweep. But it is good news to know that there are contingency plans."
And Sen. John Warner (R) of Virginia, told Fox News Sunday that "The [Defense] department's drawn up plans at all times, but I think it would be wrong now to say that this is the plan that we're going to operate under."
Meanwhile, the subject of the timing of the leak was fuel for speculation among pundits and bloggers. Joe Gandelman, writer of The Moderate Voice blog, said the story by the New York Times has the feel of "a quintessential classic, official leak."
This is an officially created leak. Why? Because if this was officially announced after several weeks in which Democrats have been demonized, the government would appear hypocritical and its rhetoric would seem patently political. By leaking it, it cushions the actual sourcing and finesses the spin that's needed to soften the blow to its supporters who have been denouncing any suggestion of a timetable that a timetable IS in the works at the same time that the idea of one is being denounced.
Mr. Gandleman writes that if the leak is not official, the White House will immediately launch an investigation into the Times' story. If it is official, "you won't see any of that although the Times may be lambasted verbally."
That view was echoed by conservative blogger, Ed Morrison, who writes the popular political blog, Captain's Quarters. Mr. Morrison also speculated Saturday that the leak might be an official one.
This leak appears to come from a high-placed military source, as this kind of briefing would have a small number of attendees. That tends to make a mole hunt rather quick to conduct, and the Pentagon will undoubtedly start looking very quickly for the leaker – unless they staged it themselves. The White House has faced a lot of pressure to show results in Iraq, and while it has come in a rush recently, the training of the Iraqi troops has mostly passed under the media radar. If we already have the reductions in process, the pressure from Congress to set deadlines will likely fade.
Finally, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows the American public is sharply divided over the issue of a deadline for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. There are still more Americans who oppose withdrawal, 51 percent, but that number has fallen from 60 percent seven months ago. The number of people who want a deadline has risen to 47 percent from 39 percent during the same time period. Nearly eight in ten Americans don't think any US troops should be withdrawn in the next six months.
Prepared by Alexander Timoshik
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