Lots of news about Iraq in the NY Times today, starting with this:
In a classified briefing to senior Pentagon officials last month, the top American commander in the Middle East outlined a plan that would gradually reduce American forces in Iraq by perhaps 20,000 to 30,000 troops by next spring if conditions on the ground permitted, three senior military officers and Defense Department officials said this week.
The assessment by Gen. John P. Abizaid, the head of the military’s Central Command, tracks with a statement made last week by the top American general in Iraq, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., that the Pentagon could make “some fairly substantial reductions” in troops by next spring and summer if the political process in Iraq remained on track and Iraqi forces assumed more responsibility for securing the country.
Together, the generals’ appraisals offer some of the most concrete indications yet that the Pentagon is moving toward reducing American forces in Iraq. They also reflect the Bush administration’s growing concerns over how the country’s involvement in Iraq is influencing domestic considerations.
But in his assessment, given as part of a larger regional analysis, General Abizaid also warned that it is possible that the Pentagon might have to keep the current levels of about 138,000 American soldiers in Iraq throughout 2006 if security and political trends are unfavorable for a withdrawal. The number of troops will temporarily increase this December to provide security for Iraqi elections. And some troops leaving Iraq could be held in Kuwait as a reserve force.
Senior administration and Pentagon officials, as well as political leaders in both parties, say there is mounting anxiety over the $5 billion-a-month cost of the war, an overtaxed military, dismal recruiting in the Army and National Guard, dwindling public support for the operation, and a steadily growing number of casualties, punctuated this week by the death of 20 marines in two separate attacks in western Iraq.
Any troop drawdown will not occur until after the drafting and implementation of the new Iraqi constitution, which is also in the news:
On the eve of a national political summit meeting to hammer out terms of a draft Iraqi constitution, a top Kurdish representative warned Saturday that the Kurds would withdraw from the government if negotiators did not meet their “basic demands.”
Azhar Ramadan Abdul Raheem, a member of the National Assembly and the committee writing the constitution, said that at a special meeting of the Kurdish parliament on Saturday, delegates agreed that the Kurdish bloc should make no concessions in the negotiations. Among the Kurdish demands is a constitutional guarantee of regional autonomy.
Some of the country’s top political leaders are set to gather Sunday to try to move the talks ahead.
“This is a last resort,” Ms. Raheem said in a telephone interview. “Iraq is on the edge of a volcano, and we hope that we can reach a settlement in the meeting tomorrow.”
The Kurds, at least publicly, have adopted a hard line in the negotiations, and with her comments, Ms. Raheem appeared to be trying to establish a bargaining position.
The Kurdish demand for autonomy has support from some Shiite leaders, but is strongly opposed by Sunni Arabs, who fear they would be left with territory that produces little or no oil.
Many in the military are disheartened by the absence of an instantly recognizable war hero today, a deficiency with a complex cause: public opinion on the Iraq war is split, and drawing attention to it risks fueling opposition; the military is more reluctant than it was in the last century to promote the individual over the group; and the war itself is different, with fewer big battles and more and messier engagements involving smaller units of Americans. Then, too, there is a celebrity culture that seems skewed more to the victim than to the hero.
Collectively, say military historians, war correspondents and retired senior officers, the country seems to have concluded that war heroes pack a political punch that requires caution. They have become not just symbols of bravery but also reminders of the war’s thorniest questions. “No one wants to call the attention of the public to bloodletting and heroism and the horrifying character of combat,” said Richard Kohn, a military historian at the University of North Carolina. “What situation can be imagined that would promote the war and not remind people of its ambivalence?”
Lots to chew on today.