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THE CONFLICT IN IRAQ

No Troop Reduction for Now, Commander Says

June 22, 2005|Mark Mazzetti | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The Iraqi insurgency shows little sign of weakening and probably will prevent any reduction in the number of U.S. troops in Iraq before the end of the year, a top U.S. commander said Tuesday.

Army Lt. Gen. John Vines, operational chief of coalition forces in Iraq, said insurgent attacks were expected to continue over the next several months as an interim Iraqi government drafts a constitution and holds a national election scheduled for December.

"At this point, I would not be prepared to recommend a draw-down prior to the election, certainly not in any significant numbers," Vines told Pentagon reporters in a videoconference briefing from Baghdad.

The general's comments were the most definitive yet by an American commander in the field that the U.S. military presence in Iraq would not diminish in 2005.

Vines said he still hoped that by early next year a more battle-tested Iraqi army would be able to assume greater security responsibilities and allow for a U.S. troop reduction of four to five brigades -- approximately 12,000 to 15,000 troops.

Recently, Vice President Dick Cheney said that the Iraqi insurgency was in its "last throes." Vines declined to make the same assessment, but he emphasized that any long-term solution to the insurgency would have to come from Iraqi politicians -- not U.S. soldiers.

If the Iraqi government "drafts a constitution that is acceptable to the larger segments of the population and is ratified, I mean, my assessment is, the insurgency could dwindle down very quickly," Vines said.

He added that recent polls indicating declining support in the United States for the war in Iraq showed that many Americans "don't have a good perception of what's at stake here." Because the United States has not been attacked since 2001, Vines said complacency had set in among Americans.

"Quite honestly, I think we have a pretty clear-cut choice: We either deal with terrorism and this extremism abroad or we deal with it when it comes to us," Vines said.

Violence continued across Iraq on Tuesday, despite efforts by U.S. and Iraqi forces to arrest suspected insurgents in Iraqi cities and crush rebel strongholds in rural Sunni Arab enclaves.

A booby-trapped car bomb set off at a checkpoint in Tuz Khurmatu, a mostly Turkmen city in the country's north, left five dead. Suicide bombings in Irbil and Baghdad over the last several days have killed dozens, many of them members of Iraq's nascent security forces.

An improvised roadside bomb killed a U.S. Army soldier on patrol near Rutbah in western Iraq, the military said in a news release. The soldier was the second attached to the 1st Corps Support Command to be killed in two days.

The Iraqi Red Crescent Society has dispatched truckloads of supplies to the Syrian border, where U.S. Marines and warplanes have been battering suspected insurgents. Recent U.S.-led assaults on the cities of Qaim and Karabilah have displaced 7,000 families, said Said Hakki, president of the nongovernmental aid society and an advisor to Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari.

Times staff writer Borzou Daragahi in Baghdad contributed to this report.

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