Sunday, June 10, 2007

Beginning to get real on Iraq policy?

From By Thomas E. Ricks
BAGHDAD -- U.S. military officials here are increasingly envisioning a 'post-occupation' troop presence in Iraq that neither maintains current levels nor leads to a complete pullout, but aims for a smaller, longer-term force that would remain in the country for years.

This goal, drawn from recent interviews with more than 20 U.S. military officers and other officials here, including senior commanders, strategists and analysts, remains in the early planning stages. It is based on officials' assessment that a sharp drawdown of troops is likely to begin by the middle of next year, with roughly two-thirds of the current force of 150,000 moving out by late 2008 or early 2009. The questions officials are grappling with are not whether the U.S. presence will be cut, but how quickly, to what level and to what purpose.

One of the guiding principles, according to two officials here, is that the United States should leave Iraq more intelligently than it entered. Military officials, many of whom would be interviewed only on the condition of anonymity, say they are now assessing conditions more realistically, rejecting the 'steady progress' mantra of their predecessors and recognizing that short-term political reconciliation in Iraq is unlikely. A reduction of troops, some officials argue, would demonstrate to anti-American factions that the occupation will not last forever while reassuring Iraqi allies that the United States does not intend to abandon the country.

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