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May 26, 2007

5 Killed In US Raid On Sadr City, Following Mookie's Triumpant Return; US *Doubling* Strength of Combat Forces In Iraq -- For A Time

RichardMc sends it with the headline, "Sadr but Wiser." And also, deader.

A day after radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr resurfaced to end nearly four months in hiding and demand U.S. troops leave Iraq, American forces raided his Sadr City stronghold and killed five suspected militia fighters in air strikes Saturday.

U.S. and Iraqi forces called in the air strikes after a raid in which they captured a "suspected terrorist cell leader," the U.S. military said in statement.

The statement claimed the captured man was "the suspected leader in a secret cell terrorist network known for facilitating the transport of weapons and explosively formed penetrators, or EFPs, from Iran to Iraq, as well as bringing militants from Iraq to Iran for terrorist training."

...

The militia fighters were killed in air strikes on nine cars that were seen positioning themselves to attack American forces after the raid, the military said.

...

Hours after the cleric spoke in at a key Shiite shrine in Kufa, about 100 miles south of Baghdad, the notorious leader of al-Sadr's Mahdi Army militia in the city of Basra was killed in a shootout as British and Iraq troops tried to arrest him, police and the British military said, further inflaming tensions in the Shiite areas of southern Iraq.

Meanwhile, the US is doubling the strength of its combat forces in Iraq -- if only briefly:

The Bush administration is quietly on track to nearly double the number of combat troops in Iraq this year, an analysis of Pentagon deployment orders showed Monday.

When additional support troops are included in this second troop "surge," the total number of U.S. troops in Iraq could increase from 162,000 now to more than 200,000 — a record high number — by the end of the year.

The little-noticed efforts to reinforce U.S. troops in Iraq are being carried out without the fanfare that accompanied President Bush's initial troop surge in January.

The second "surge" of troops to Iraq is being executed by deploying more combat brigades to the country, plus extending tours of duty for troops already there.

Retired Army Maj. Gen. William Nash, the U.S. commander who led NATO troops into Bosnia in late 1995, asked to comment on the findings, said: "It doesn't surprise me that they're not talking about it. I think they would be very happy not to have any more attention paid to this."

The first surge was prominently proclaimed by Bush in a nationally televised address on Jan. 10 when he ordered five additional combat brigades to join 15 brigades already in Iraq.

The build-up was designed to give commanders the 20 combat brigades that Pentagon planners said were needed to provide security in Baghdad and western Anbar province.

Since then, the Pentagon has extended combat tours for units in Iraq from 12 months to 15 months and announced the deployment of additional brigades.

Taken together, the steps could put elements of as many as 28 combat brigades in Iraq by Christmas, according to an analysis of deployment orders by Hearst Newspapers.

And if that doesn't work -- and, likely, even if it does -- it seems we're on a timetable for withdrawal, which tracks rather closely with the Pelosi-Murtha Plan For Victory, minus the Okinawan Rapid Response Forces:

The Bush administration is developing what are described as concepts for reducing American combat forces in Iraq by as much as half next year, according to senior administration officials in the midst of the internal debate.

It is the first indication that growing political pressure is forcing the White House to turn its attention to what happens after the current troop increase runs its course.

The concepts call for a reduction in forces that could lower troop levels by the midst of the 2008 presidential election to roughly 100,000, from about 146,000, the latest available figure, which the military reported on May 1. They would also greatly scale back the mission that President Bush set for the American military when he ordered it in January to win back control of Baghdad and Anbar Province.

The mission would instead focus on the training of Iraqi troops and fighting Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, while removing Americans from many of the counterinsurgency efforts inside Baghdad.

Still, there is no indication that Mr. Bush is preparing to call an early end to the current troop increase, and one reason officials are talking about their long-range strategy may be to blunt pressure from members of Congress, including some Republicans, who are pushing for a more rapid troop reduction.

...

So far, the concepts are entirely a creation of Washington and have been developed without the involvement of the top commanders in Iraq, Gen. David H. Petraeus and Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, both of whom have been enthusiastic supporters of the troop increase.

Those generals and other commanders have made it clear that they are operating on a significantly slower clock than officials in Washington, who are eager for significant withdrawals before the president leaves office in January 2009.

In an interview in Baghdad on Thursday, General Odierno, the senior United States ground commander, said any withdrawal of American troops was not advisable until December, “at a minimum.”

Even then, he said, redeployments should be carried out slowly, to avoid jeopardizing security gains.

If it sounds like a sell-out for political expediency, well, it probably is. But even reliably-conservative Mitch McConnell is pushing for an Iraq exit as the elections loom.

As President Bush prepared to sign a $120 billion Iraq War funding bill later today, House Democratic leaders vowed to keep up the pressure for a change of course in the war. The Senate’s top Republican predicted Bush himself would lead such a shift this fall.

“I think the handwriting is on the wall that we are going in a different direction in the fall, and I expect the president himself to lead it,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

McConnell added, “We’ve given the Iraqi government an opportunity to have a normal country, and so far, they’ve been a great disappointment.”

...

McConnell indicated that he expects Bush to redirect U.S. policy in Iraq along the lines recommended last December by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group.

Indeed. How's that Iranian/Syrian cooperation on stabilizing Iraq coming, eh?


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posted by Ace at 02:54 PM

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