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2503Officials: Bush to announce troop cut

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  • Greg Cannon
    Sep 11, 2007

      Officials: Bush to announce troop cut

      By MATTHEW LEE and ANNE FLAHERTY, Associated Press
      Writers 33 minutes ago

      WASHINGTON - President Bush will tell the nation
      Thursday evening that he plans to reduce the American
      troop presence in Iraq by as many as 30,000 by next
      summer but will condition those and further cuts on
      continued progress, The Associated Press has learned.

      In a 15-minute address from the White House at 9 p.m.
      EDT, Bush will endorse the recommendations of his top
      general and top diplomat in Iraq, following their
      appearance at two days of hearings in Congress,
      administration officials said. The White House plans
      to issue a written status report on the troop buildup
      on Friday, they said.

      The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because
      Bush's speech is not yet final. Bush was rehearsing
      and polishing his remarks even as the U.S. commander
      in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, and U.S. Ambassador Ryan
      Crocker were presenting their arguments for a second
      day on Capitol Hill.

      In the speech, the president will say he understands
      Americans' deep concerns about U.S. involvement in
      Iraq and their desire to bring the troops home, they
      said. Bush will say that, after hearing from Petraeus
      and Crocker, he has decided on a way forward that will
      reduce the U.S. military presence but not abandon Iraq
      to chaos, according to the officials.

      The address will stake out a conciliatory tone toward
      Congress. But while mirroring Petraeus' strategy, Bush
      will place more conditions on reductions than his
      general did, insisting that conditions on the ground
      must warrant cuts and that now-unforeseen events could
      change the plan.

      Petraeus recommended that a 2,000-member Marine unit
      return home this month without replacement. That would
      be followed in mid-December with the departure of an
      Army brigade numbering 3,500 to 4,000 soldiers. Under
      the general's plan, another four combat brigades would
      be withdrawn by July 2008.

      That could leave the U.S. with as few as
      130,000-135,000 troops in Iraq, down from about
      168,000 now, although Petraeus was not precise about
      whether all the about 8,000 support troops sent with
      those extra combat forces would be withdrawn by July.

      Petraeus said he foresaw even deeper troop cuts beyond
      July, but he recommended that Bush wait until at least
      March to decide when to go below 130,000 — and at what

      At the White House, Bush met with House and Senate
      lawmakers of both parties and he publicly pledged to
      consider their views. Senate Minority Leader Mitch
      McConnell, R-Ky., said the president didn't talk about
      the nationwide address.

      House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Bush
      appears poised merely to bring the country back to
      where it was before the election that put Democrats in
      control of Congress — with 130,000 troops in Iraq.

      "Please. It's an insult to the intelligence of the
      American people that that is a new direction in Iraq,"
      she said. "We're as disappointed as the public is that
      the president has a tin ear to their opinion on this

      In his speech, Bush will adopt Petraeus' call for more
      time to determine the pace and scale of future
      withdrawals and offer to report to Congress in March,
      one official said.

      As Petraeus and Crocker have, Bush will acknowledge
      difficulties, and the fact that few of the benchmarks
      set by Congress to measure progress of the buildup
      have been met, the official said. Yet, he will stress
      that a precipitous U.S. withdrawal would be a
      catastrophe for Iraq and U.S. interests.

      The president will discuss "bottom up" security
      improvements, notably in Anbar Province, which he
      visited on Labor Day and where Sunni leaders have
      allied themselves with U.S. forces to fight
      insurgents. And, he will note incremental progress on
      the political front despite unhelpful roles played by
      Iran and Syria, the official said.

      Crocker was particularly keen on detailing diplomatic
      developments, including Saudi Arabia's move to open an
      embassy in Baghdad and a third conference of Iraqi
      neighbors to be hosted by Turkey in Istanbul at the
      end of October.

      In Congress, cracks in Republican support for the Iraq
      war remained, as epitomized by heated questioning
      Tuesday of Petraeus.

      "Is this a mission shift?" asked Sen. Lisa Murkowski,
      R-Alaska. "Are we continuing down the same path that
      we have laid out before, entirely reliant on the
      ability of the Iraqis to come together to achieve that
      political reconciliation?"

      Sen. Norm Coleman said he wants a longer-term vision
      other than suggestions that Petraeus and Crocker
      return to Capitol Hill in mid-March to give another
      assessment. "Americans want to see light at the end of
      the tunnel," said Coleman, R-Minn.

      Many rank-and-file Republicans say they are deeply
      uneasy about keeping troops in Iraq through next
      summer, but they also remain reluctant to embrace
      legislation ordering troops home by next spring.
      Democrats, under substantial pressure by voters and
      politically influential anti-war groups, had
      anticipated that a larger number of Republicans by now
      would have turned against Bush on the war because of
      grim poll numbers and the upcoming 2008 elections.

      Indeed, Petraeus' testimony helped to solidify support
      elsewhere in the GOP, keeping Democrats far from the
      60 votes they needed to pass legislation ordering
      troops home.

      "Americans should be happy that we can begin to reduce
      troop levels months ahead of schedule," said Sen. Pete
      Domenici, R-N.M.

      "I'm optimistic that when the votes are counted,
      they'll be roughly the same as they have been all
      year," said McConnell, the Senate Republican leader.
      "As you know, we've lost some, but not a lot and I
      think that's a likely outcome again."

      Echoing testimony given to the House on Monday,
      Petraeus and Crocker acknowledged that Iraq remains
      largely dysfunctional but said violence had decreased
      since the influx of added U.S. troops.

      Crocker said he fears that announcing troop
      withdrawals, as Democrats want, would focus Iraqi
      attention on "building the walls, stocking ammunition
      and getting ready for a big nasty street fight" rather
      than working toward reconciliation. "It will take
      longer than we initially anticipated" for Iraq's
      leaders to address the country's problems, he said.

      The two days of testimony seemed to turn the debate
      away from the list of 18 benchmarks by which the White
      House and Iraq's government had said earlier this year
      that they preferred to measure progress. The
      administration has protested more recently that the
      benchmarks offer an unrealistic or incomplete look at
      the situation.

      The hearing fell on the anniversary of the Sept. 11,
      2001, terrorist attacks.

      In an unusual admission, Petraeus said he was not sure
      whether his proposal on Iraq would make America safer.

      A visibly heated Sen. John Warner, R-Va., asked the
      question to which Petraeus said: "Sir, I don't know,
      actually. I have not sat down and sorted that out in
      my mind. What I have focused on and riveted on is how
      to accomplish the mission of the multinational force Iraq."