Bush administration might reduce
in Iraq shortly before November election
Administration considering small
reduction; Move could help Republican candidates
by serving as an indicator of a 'successful' surge and
sign of 'victory' over the horizon
Writing by Christopher Michaud; Editing by Eric Walsh
July 12, 2008
The Bush administration is considering withdrawing additional troops from Iraq beginning in September, The New York Times reported in Sunday editions, citing administration and military officials.
The withdrawal, which the Times said would constitute a marked reversal from the war's darkest days of 2006-2007, stemmed partly from the need for more U.S. troops in Afghanistan to fight the rising insurgency by the Taliban and other fighters. U.S. and allied casualties there have outpaced those in Iraq in recent months.
No final decisions have been made, but at least one and as many as three of the 15 combat brigades now in Iraq could be withdrawn, or slated for withdrawal, by the end of the administration in January, the Times said, citing officials.
The White House declined to discuss the withdrawals, but spokesman Gordon Johndroe told the newspaper that while the president hoped to bring more troops home, he would await the recommendation in September of Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, the Times said.
"For now," Johndroe said, "we will continue discussions with the Iraqis on our shared goals of a reduced U.S. troop presence," it quoted him as saying.
Despite consensus among officials that fewer forces are needed in Iraq and more in Afghanistan, one senior administration official also cautioned that President George W. Bush would resist deep or rapid reductions if that threatened the prospects for a stable, democratic government in Iraq, the Times said.
"There hasn't really been any discussion of numbers, and it's definitely based on conditions on the ground," the Times quoted a military officer in Baghdad as saying. Conditions "are a lot more favorable than in December or April or even two months ago," he added.
But Petraeus, who leaves Iraq in September to head the U.S. Central Command, which also has oversight over the Afghanistan war, and has already begun the review of security and troop levels, is expected to be more cautious than some administration and Pentagon officials might want, the Times said. Officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said Petraeus would more likely recommend a smaller reduction.
The most optimistic course would be 120,000 to 130,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, the Times said, which would be down from the peak of 170,000 in 2007 after Bush ordered the troop increase.
As of July 9, there were 146,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.
Iraq is a major issue in November's presidential election battle between Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama. McCain supports the Bush administration's current strategy there, while Obama has called for a timetable for withdrawal.
While a reduction of combat brigades in Iraq would free up troops that could be sent to Afghanistan, officials said no additional forces would go until next year, the Times said.