Leaked secret memo says coalition forces will be cut to 66,000 by middle of next year.
By Tom Regan | csmonitor.com
A secret leaked memo written form British Prime Minister Tony Blair by his Defense Secretary John Reid says that British and US troops have drawn up plans to withdraw the majority of their troops by the middle of next year.
The memo, first reported on by the Mail on Sunday, is marked 'Secret — UK Eyes Only,' and says "emerging US plans assume that 14 out of 18 provinces could be handed over to Iraqi control by early 2006." This would allow a reduction in overall US-led forces in Iraq to 66,000 troops. The troop level in Iraq is currently 160,000, including 138,000 American troops.
The Herald of Scotland reports that Mr. Reid did not deny the authenticity of the memo but said that "no troop decisions" have been made. US officials at the Pentagon said they had not seen the document, so could not comment.
Reuters reports that cutting troop levels back to 66,000 "would leave manpower for just two full US divisions. Enough, probably, to prevent Iraqi militia from contemplating all-out sectarian war, but not enough to participate in day-to-day patrolling of most of the country."
World Affairs analyst Paul Reynolds of the BBC writes that while the memo reveals coalition hopes for reducing troop-levels, it also reveals some of the problems of the plan. There is strong disagreement between the Pentagon and US Central Command, which want a "bold" gesture," and US commanders on the ground in Iraq, who think "is too soon to think about such reductions."
Mr. Reynolds writes that three factors seem to be creating pressure on the US and British governments to withdraw troops: politics, cost, and manpower.
The politics require that Iraq be controlled by Iraqis as soon as possible. This has always been the intention if not the current reality. A reduction would also help both Mr Bush and Mr Blair domestically. But full withdrawal, as carried out by Spain and hoped for by Italy, is not on the horizon.
The memo puts the British government's cost of the Iraqi operation at £1bn a year, and a force reduction to 3,000 would save £500m.
A reduced Iraq commitment would help the UK to find 3,000 more troops for Afghanistan next year. They are needed both to man the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps HQ, which is to be deployed there under British leadership, and to add troops to the fight against the Taliban and the heroin trade.
The US is already having trouble among its reservists and National Guard men and women about service in Iraq, so reduced numbers would help ease retention and recruitment.
Juan Cole, Iraq expert at the University of Michigan and author of the Informed Comment blog, writes that he is skeptical of the ability of the Iraqi forces to take over by next year.
What in the world, then is actually going on? In practice, I think the withdrawal plan implies a willingness to turn the five northern provinces over to the Kurdish Peshmerga paramilitary, and the 9 southern provinces over to a combination of Shiite militias and new Iraqi government security forces (Interior Ministry gendarmes and regular army). And, I think this obviously desperate plan really risks damaging the integrity of Iraq as a nation-state. But, it is unlikely that for the US to remain at its present force levels would help maintain that integrity, anyway.
Ironically, the peace groups who have been demanding a rapid US withdrawal have in recent months been closer to Pentagon thinking than they could have imagined.
The leaked memo also notes that other allies would be reluctant to keep their troops in Iraq if there were large reductions by the US and Britain.
The document says the Japanese would be reluctant to stay if force protection was provided solely by the Iraqis. The Australian position may also be 'uncertain.'
Reuters reports that Australian government officials said Monday that they have seen no plans for them to take over military command in southern Iraq, if British forces are reduced in order to send more troops to Afghanistan.
Australia has 1,370 defense personnel in Iraq, including 450 troops protecting Japanese engineers and training the Iraqi army. The Australian reports that 200 to 300 additional troops would be needed if the command shifts to Australia.
Willam Kristol, the editor of the Weekly Standard, writes in The Australian, that it is important to keep fighting in Iraq because it is part of the overall war on global terror.
The insurgents in Iraq are terrorists. They are killing innocent civilians just as surely and just as ruthlessly as their allies in London. Could the war on terror have been successfully prosecuted without removing Saddam Hussein? I do not believe so. Given the terrorist ties between Al Qaeda and Hussein, given what a victorious Hussein, freed of sanctions and inspectors, would have meant to the cause of extremism and anti-Americanism and, yes, terrorism in the Middle East – I cannot imagine leaving him in power.
Yet, however one comes down on that judgment, it cannot be denied that the present war in Iraq is part of the global war on terror. Indeed, it is that war's central front. Not only because there are so many terrorists in Iraq, but because, as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has acknowledged, creating a successful democracy in Iraq will be the beginning of the end for jihadist terrorists worldwide.
But the push to get British soldiers out of Iraq may only increase after last week's terrorist bombings in London, writes the Guardian's columnist Gary Younge. Mr. Younge says that the people who are denying any link between last week's attacks and Iraq are "in the deepest denial."
Did Downing Street really think it could declare a war on terror and that terror would not fight back? ... The invasion and occupation of Iraq – illegal, immoral and inept – provided the Arab world with one more legitimate grievance. Bush laid down the gauntlet: you're either with us or with the terrorists. A small minority of young Muslims looked at the values displayed in Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo Bay and Camp Bread Basket - and made their choice. The war helped transform Iraq from a vicious, secular dictatorship with no links to international terrorism into a magnet and training ground for those determined to commit terrorist atrocities. Meanwhile, it diverted our attention and resources from the very people we should have been fighting - Al Qaeda.
The Guardian reports on the dead and missing from Monday's explosions. The missing is a snap shot of the world that is London: they include several young Muslims, a Jew, Poles, Africans, an American, an Italian, Chinese, an Indian, a Turk and many others.
• Fareed Zakaria - Prevailing over terror (Khaleej Times
• PM to snub calls for terror inquiry (This is London
• A defiant Islam rises among young Britons (Christian Science Monitor)
• Boy president in a failed world? (Asia Times)
• Thirty key Al Qaeda-linked terror suspects are identified by police (Independent)
• US Seals 'got too close to bin Laden' (The Australian)
• Military: Frustration for the fabled SEALs (Newsweek)
• Feedback appreciated. E-mail Tom Regan .
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