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Pentagon Extends Tour for 4,000 Troops, Increasing Number in Iraq

New York Times | July 30, 2006
By EDWARD WONG

The tours of 4,000 American soldiers who had been scheduled to leave Iraq in the coming weeks have been extended for up to four months, signaling that there would almost certainly be no significant troop pullout before the year’s end, military officials and analysts said Saturday.

The extension is part of the new security plan that President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki announced last week in Washington. The plan entails sending thousands of American and Iraqi troops to the capital from elsewhere in Iraq to bolster the forces here. Since the new Iraqi government was installed in May, sectarian violence has spiraled out of control in many parts of Baghdad.

Of the 4,000 troops ordered to stay beyond their standard one-year tour, 3,500 are from the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, currently based in the northern city of Mosul, said Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, a military spokesman. The other 500 come from other units.

A separate military statement on Saturday used slightly different numbers. It said 3,700 members of the 172nd Brigade were being sent to Baghdad. The eight-wheel Stryker vehicles the brigade uses are smaller and more maneuverable than the Bradley fighting vehicles and M1 Abrams tanks, making them better suited for urban combat.

The new security plan allows almost no room for significant troop withdrawals by the end of 2006, Anthony H. Cordesman, a military analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, said in an interview on Saturday.

If any troop pullout takes place in the coming months, “it would be so cosmetic that it would be meaningless,” he said. “It would be statistical gamesmanship.”

“People are now talking about 2009 as the goal for achieving really serious security,” he added.

The issue of when troops should be withdrawn has stirred political debate and pressure, especially with midterm elections coming in November. Several leading Democrats in Congress have pressed for a deadline of the end of the year for withdrawing most troops, and some Republicans are also calling for a significant drawdown by then.

The top American commander in Iraq, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., recently drafted a plan that projected sharp reductions in troop numbers by the end of 2007, with the first cuts coming this September. Under the plan, two combat brigades scheduled to rotate out in September — roughly 3,500 soldiers per brigade — would not be replaced. But given the new focus on Baghdad, such a move would be almost impossible.

As of Saturday, there were 127,000 American troops in the country, Colonel Johnson said. Numbers fluctuate when units overlap while rotating in and out of Iraq. So the total troop level will rise above 130,000 as new units rotate in and the 4,000 troops are held here longer.

The 172nd Stryker Brigade was deployed to Mosul in August 2005. The brigade had been preparing to return to its home base, Fort Wainwright, Alaska, when the Pentagon ordered a tour extension.

Many military officials have said that asking soldiers to serve more than a year at a time in Iraq grinds away at morale and motivation. That effect is one of the reasons the Marines usually do six- or seven-month tours here rather than a full year, which the Army prefers. In the spring of 2004, morale plummeted among soldiers of the First Armored Division when they were asked to stay beyond their yearlong tour in order to quell a Shiite uprising.

At the time, the First Armored Division had already spent a year trying to gain control of Baghdad, one of the most dangerous assignments in the country. Units were then sent to the Shiite holy cities of Najaf and Karbala to battle the Mahdi Army, the militia founded by Moktada al-Sadr, the anti-American cleric.

The new Baghdad security plan calls for adding at least 4,000 American troops and 4,000 Iraqi security officers in the capital. There are now 9,000 American troops, 8,500 Iraqi soldiers and 34,500 Iraqi police officers in Baghdad.

The military said Saturday in a written statement that “the duration of the temporary deployment of these Iraqi and coalition forces in Baghdad will be determined by conditions on the ground.”

Mr. Maliki announced his original plan to take control of Baghdad shortly after he was installed in office in late May. Iraqi forces operated checkpoints all over the capital and slowed traffic to a crawl. But suicide bombers and death squads stepped up the pace of killings. In June, more than 100 civilians were killed per day in Iraq, many in the capital.

On Friday, one of the country’s top Shiite leaders, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, called for Iraqis to wrest control of security from the hands of the Americans. Mr. Hakim presides over the main Shiite political bloc and oversees the Badr Organizaton, an Iranian-trained militia. He has been pushing to carve the country into three large autonomous regions.

Ripples of violence could be felt across Iraq on Saturday. The coach of the national soccer team resigned on Friday because of threats, sports officials said. The coach, Akram Ahmed Salman, turned in his resignation in Erbil, the Kurdish city where the team is training, said Abdul Khalak Massoud, the financial secretary of the Iraqi Football Federation.

Mr. Massoud said Mr. Salman had received two phone calls within two days warning him that his family would be killed unless he quit. “It’s so weird,” Mr. Massoud said.

Violence against athletes and sports directors has been on the rise in recent weeks. Earlier this month, gunmen abducted the chairman of the Iraqi National Olympic Committee and at least 30 other officials and bodyguards in a brazen daylight raid. Before that, Iraq’s national wrestling coach and several top tennis players were killed in separate attacks.

In the volatile oil city of Kirkuk, a car bomb exploded across the street from a gas station, killing at least four people and wounding at least 18.

In Baghdad, a worker at Yamouk Hospital said the hospital had received 8 bodies and 18 injured people from various attacks.

 

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