US in U-turn on Iraq troop numbers

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US in U-turn on Iraq troop numbers

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The Financial Times - Jul 28, 2006

US in quiet U-turn on Iraq troop numbers

By Edward Luce and Caroline Daniel in Washington

The US administration has quietly reversed its goal from whittling down
troop numbers in Iraq before the mid-term congressional elections in

A Pentagon spokesman on Friday confirmed that US troop levels in Iraq
rose to 132,000 during the past week ? the highest since late May ? from
127,000 at the start of the week. The spokesman said troop numbers often
fluctuated and ?there might be temporary spikes during periods of troop

However, analysts said an increase in troop numbers was more likely than
a reduction because the number of sectarian killings in Iraq had almost
doubled since the start of the year. The rise will prompt fears that the
US is becoming increasingly bogged down in an unwinnable conflict.

On Thursday, the Pentagon said it would extend for up to 120 days the
3,700-strong deployment of the 172nd Stryker brigade in Iraq, among
other rotations. There were 3,169 Iraqis killed in June, compared with
1,778 in January.

Richard Armitage, who was US deputy secretary of state until January
2005, said: ?The US has almost totally reversed the troop situation from
two months ago. The danger is that this is too little and too late and
that the US will turn into a bystander in an Iraqi civil war it does not
have sufficient resources to prevent.?

The rise in US troop levels comes as the world?s attention is on Lebanon
but also coincides with a reported upsurge in anti-US sentiment in
Baghdad?s Shia neighbourhoods following the launch of the US-backed
Israeli campaign against Hizbollah.

This week Nouri al-Maliki, Iraqi prime minister, agreed to a joint
US-Iraq military operation to regain control of Baghdad.

George W.Bush, US president, also faces growing difficulties with
Iraq?s new government, which is making anti-US noises to shore up its
credibility with Iraqis. Mr Maliki is under domestic pressure to demand
that trials of US soldiers take place in Iraq. The US says this is not

However, US officials deny that the new campaign to stabilise Baghdad
undermines Mr Bush?s promise that ?as the Iraqis stand up we will stand
down? ? a phrase he has almost stopped using. In a departure from Mr
Bush?s normally upbeat language, he this week said the violence in
Baghdad was ?terrible?.

Although the violence has shifted from an anti-US insurgency to a
sectarian conflict between Sunni and Shia groups, Iraq experts fear Shia
militias will see US troops as an easy target. There are also concerns
that the combined US-Iraqi force of 75,000 will be insufficient to
regain control of Baghdad.

Kenneth Pollack, a former US National Security Council official, said:
?The numbers should probably be roughly double what they are. We are
seeing the right plan but completely inadequate resources to make it work.?

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006

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