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US mulls exit strategy from Iraq (JERUSALEM POST) By JANINE ZACHARIA WASHINGTON 01/29/05)Source: http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?pagename=JPost/JPArticle/ShowFull&cid=1106969220759 JERUSALEM POST JERUSALEM POST Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
As Iraqis ready to go to the polls Sunday to elect a 275-member Transitional National Assembly and provincial councils, a debate is raging in Washington over whether to use the occasion to begin planning an exit strategy from Iraq.

The discussion intensified this week as the single-day casualty toll peaked on Wednesday with the deaths of 36 US servicemen in a helicopter crash and multiple ambushes. The total number of dead since the start of the war has surpassed 1,400.

The US Army said this week it was planning to maintain 120,000 troops in Iraq, the bulk of the overall 150,000 American forces deployed there, at least through the end of 2006, while other news reports suggested war planners were looking for ways to cut the concentration of troops even more.

Senate Democrats used Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice´s confirmation hearings this week to attack the method in which the administration is conducting the war. Also this week, US President George W. Bush asked Congress for an additional $80 billion in supplemental aid, beyond his regular budget request, the bulk of which will go to cover the cost of the Iraq war.

The announcement came as the US budget deficit prediction for this fiscal year prediction soared beyond expectations to a record $427 billion.

Polls consistently show that a clear majority of Americans believe it was a mistake to go to war in Iraq.

And while a slim majority of Americans – 51 percent – say according to a recent CBS/New York Times poll that US troops should stay in Iraq "as long as it takes to make sure Iraq is a stable democracy," that percentage is a five-point drop from last year.

Meanwhile, 42% of Americans today believe the troops should leave "as soon as possible."

While US officials, both military and civilian, have insisted in recent weeks that US troops needed to remain in Iraq while Iraqi troops are trained to take over the job of securing the country, President Bush told the New York Times in an interview Friday that the US would "absolutely" withdraw its troops if asked to do so by the new Iraqi government.

The assembly, to be elected Sunday, will choose a president and two vice presidents.

Other countries are rethinking the troop presence as well. British Prime Minister Tony Blair says troops should be completely withdrawn from peaceful provinces and concentrated in violent ones.

At the Brookings Institution this week, Rep. Marty Meehan (D- Massachusetts), a member of the House Armed Services Committee, called for the administration to publicly outline a timetable for removing the bulk of US troops within 12-18 months, leaving only a small and mobile force of roughly 30,000 by mid-2006.

"It is clear the administration has no end game in sight, so it´s time for Congress to reassert its role in foreign policy and take the lead on providing an exit strategy in Iraq," Meehan said.

"The undeniable fact is that the insurgency is being fueled by the very presence of the American military," Meehan added. He further predicted that, "the incoming government, whoever it is, will demand that the United States withdraw as soon as it is confident of its own survival."

But some prominent thinkers have rejected announcing an exit strategy as a perilous plan. In a Washington Post opinion piece published Tuesday, former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Shultz wrote: "The essential prerequisite for an acceptable exit strategy is a sustainable outcome, not an arbitrary time limit. For the outcome in Iraq will shape the next decade of American foreign policy. A debacle would usher in a series of convulsions in the region as radicals and fundamentalists moved fro dominance, with the wind seemingly at their backs."

In his press conference Wednesday, President Bush urged Iraqis to "defy the terrorists" and go to the polls on Sunday. When asked what would be a credible turnout number, Bush, in a moment of candor illustrating his lowered expectations, said, "The fact that they´re voting, in itself, is successful." (© 1995-2005, The Jerusalem Post 01/29/05)


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