Air Force Times: Preparations for Iraq withdrawal underway
August 03, 2005
Preparations for Iraq withdrawal underway
By Robert Burns
The Pentagon is laying the groundwork for beginning a
withdrawal from Iraq, even as it is weighing the risk
of moving so quickly that Iraqi security forces
collapse without U.S. support.
The benefits of a U.S. drawdown are pretty clear.
Fewer troops would likely mean fewer casualties and
less strain on the Army and Marine Corps, which
already are stretched thin. And it would lessen the
degree to which the presence of foreign forces fuels
an anti-U.S. insurgency.
There are now about 138,000 U.S. troops in Iraq in a
war with dwindling popularity among American voters.
At best, a U.S. drawdown would begin shortly after
elections for a new government in Baghdad, scheduled
for December. That assumes two other difficult
political milestones are achieved first: drafting a
constitution by Aug. 15 and holding a national
referendum in mid-October to approve the constitution.
It also assumes the insurgency does not get worse
and that Iraqi security forces prove themselves ready
If the U.S. were to withdraw before the Iraqis were
ready, the American sacrifices of the past 2½ years
could be lost and President Bush would face pressure
to explain why the invasion was worth it.
Even though Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has
not yet received even a recommendation from commanders
on when to start the pullout, he has been talking more
directly in recent days about the security transition.
Once Iraq is safely in the hands of the Iraqi people,
and a government they elected under a new
constitution, our troops will be able to come home
with the honor they have earned, Rumsfeld said in a
speech prepared for the Dallas Chamber of Commerce on
Tuesday. Rumsfeld delivered only abbreviated remarks
by telephone after his plane had mechanical problems.
Noticeably absent from his comments was any assertion
that defeating the insurgency is one of the conditions
for an American withdrawal.
In Rumsfelds view, shared by top U.S. commanders in
Iraq, it must be left to the Iraqis to overcome the
insurgency. Likewise, the Iraqis must be prodded to
take the lead in other areas of their struggle to
Among the signs that the United States is pressing a
faster transition to Iraqi-led security, to open the
way for a U.S. withdrawal:
After taking up his post last month as U.S.
ambassador to Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad announced the
creation of a U.S.-Iraq task force to develop a
strategy and conditions for transferring the security
responsibility from the U.S.-led coalition forces to
the Iraqis. Our common goal is to help Iraq stand on
its own feet as quickly as possible, Khalilzad said,
adding that this would allow for a phased U.S.
Last weekend Iraqi police and a brigade of the 5th
Iraqi Army Division formally took full control of an
area in Diyala Province, to the northeast of Baghdad,
known as Khalis Qadah, replacing a U.S. Army unit.
Col. Archie Davis, spokesman for Gen. George Casey,
the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said the transition
was made because the Iraqis had demonstrated their
proficiency at fighting the insurgents without U.S.
Mowaffak Rubaie, Iraqs national security adviser,
said Monday that several cities in the more stable
south and north had been identified as areas where
withdrawal of foreign forces could likely start soon.
The cities included Najaf, Karbala, Samawah, Diwaniyah
and Nasiriyah in the heavily Shiite Muslim south, and
possibly Irbil and Sulaymaniyah in the predominantly
The battle against the insurgency brought another
stark reminder Tuesday of the cost in U.S. lives of
remaining in Iraq. Military officials announced that
seven Marines were killed in action on Monday, pushing
the total number of U.S. deaths in Iraq since the
March 2003 invasion beyond the 1,800 mark. More than
13,700 have been wounded.
Iraqis both civilians and security forces have
taken the lions share of the casualties in recent
months as U.S. troops have deliberately scaled back
their unilateral combat missions to operate more with
Iraqi forces. There are now more than 180,000 Iraqi
police and army troops that have been trained and
equipped by U.S. forces.
On a visit to Iraq last week, Rumsfeld drew a direct
link between American combat deaths and the urgency of
getting the Iraqis to complete a constitution by Aug.
We have troops on the ground there. People are
getting killed, Rumsfeld said, adding that political
progress is necessary to defeat the insurgency.