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Pentagon: Consensus Grows On Iraq Force Cuts

Washington (AFP) Nov 28, 2005
US forces in Iraq are likely to be reduced soon after its elections, to about 140,000, and there is a "growing consensus" that even deeper cuts are possible, a Pentagon spokesman said Monday.

Lawrence DiRita, the chief Pentagon spokesman, said no decisions have been made on US force levels next year beyond drawing down the about 20,000 troops used for a temporary buildup through the December 15 elections.

"It is likely we will get down to the baseline after the election," DiRita told reporters, referring to the core force of about 140,000 troops the United States has maintained in Iraq since April 2004.

"I think there is a more or less growing consensus that as we continue to handover security responsibilities to Iraqi security forces it will be possible to further reduce beyond that baseline," he said.

"But there just has been no decisions made," he added.

The White House issued a statement over the weekend calling a proposal by Democratic Senator Joseph Biden for a 50,000-troop reduction in Iraq next year "remarkably similar" to its own "plan for victory."

Iraqi national security adviser Mowafaq al Rubaie said in an interview with CNN on Sunday that US force levels would drop below 100,000 by 2007.

DiRita said General George Casey, the US commander in Iraq, has not made any recommendations on force levels next year but has laid out alternate approaches that could be taken depending on conditions there.

President George W. Bush, in a speech scheduled for Wednesday, is expected to highlight the progress US forces have made in turning over security to Iraqis, DiRita said.

Pentagon officials said 22 forward-operating bases have been turned over to Iraqi troops so far. Earlier this month, the US military turned over its headquarters in Tikrit to Iraqis.

"When we turn over two dozen forward-operating bases, that's two dozen that no longer require US military," DiRita said. "So at a certain point you have to start to connect that to force levels."

"Overall, as you continue to either close or turn over these bases, it is just self evident that there will be some reduced need for American presence in those areas," he said.

DiRita said US commanders' confidence in the Iraqi security forces has grown over time although he acknowledged that their performance remains uneven.

"Iraqi leaders uniformly suggest they are ready to accept greater responsibility for security, and that translates to them to a desire that in general there be a reduced footprint for the United States," he said.

Abdul Aziz Hakim, the head of the Shiite religious party that leads the transitional government, called on the United States over the weekend to let Iraqis take a more aggressive role against the insurgency.

The Washington Post quoted him as accusing the Americans of "major interference, and preventing the forces of the Interior or Defense ministries from carrying out tasks they are capable of doing, and also in the way they are dealing with the terrorists."

DiRita said he did not know what specifically Hakim was referring to.

"The sentiment of a lot of Iraqi leaders is that 'We're ready to step in. We're feeling confident in our own ability to gather intelligence, to execute off of that intelligence, for the security forces themselves to be more involved, to take the lead more.'"

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US Casualties In Iraq Climbing Again
Washington (UPI) Nov 28, 2005
The latest figures issued by the Department of Defense and other U.S. and Iraqi official sources reveal an insurgency still raging unabated in which the number of total casualties inflicted on U.S. troops is once again climbing, and where the insurgents appear to be switching resources from targeting Iraqi security forces to carrying out Multiple Fatality Bomb (MFB) attacks.

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