US commander in Iraq backs gradual troop cut
General David Petraeus, the US commander in Iraq, will recommend a gradual reduction of US forces beginning next spring in his eagerly anticipated testimony to Congress next week, the Boston Globe reported yesterday.
"Based on the progress our forces are achieving, I expect to be able to recommend that some of our forces will be redeployed without replacement," Petraeus told the Globe in an email from Baghdad.
"That will, over time, reduce the total number of troops in Iraq. The process will take time, but we want to be sure to maintain the security gains that coalition and Iraqi forces have worked so hard to achieve," he said.
The force reduction Petraeus forecast will come as the five additional brigades deployed to Iraq as part of President George W. Bush's "surge" strategy end their tours of duty over the spring and summer, and are not replaced, the daily said. A brigade consists of 3,500 to 4,500 soldiers.
"The bottom line is that ... I do not envision that the US would need to send more troops," he was quoted as saying. "In fact, we are in the process of doing the 'battlefield geometry' to determine the way ahead as the surge of forces inevitably runs its course."
There are currently 168,000 US troops in Iraq, including the 30,000 "surge" troops deployed to help stabilize Baghdad and the restive Al-Anbar province.
Beginning Monday, Petraeus and the US ambassador in Iraq, Ryan Crocker, will testify about the war's progress to the Democratic-controlled Congress amid growing calls for the beginning of a withdrawal.
Meanwhile, reports that offer a bleak picture of Iraq's political climate and the performance of its security forces are providing fresh impetus for Democrats calling for US troop withdrawals.
An independent panel led by retired Marine Gen. James Jones recommended that the Iraqis assume more control of their nation's security and that US forces, seen as an occupying and permanent force, should step back. Its report, presented to Congress on Thursday, contended that "significant reductions, consolidations and realignments would appear to be possible and prudent."
The Jones panel also found that Iraq's security forces would be unable to take control in the next 12 months to 18 months and recommended that its national police force be scrapped and entirely rebuilt because of corruption and sectarianism.