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U.S. to cut Iraq troop force by 12,000
Washington, Mar 8 (Agencies):
Published on 9 Mar. 2009 12:08 AM IST
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The United States will reduce the number of troops in Iraq by around 12,000 in the next six months, the U.S. military said on Sunday, a step in President Barack Obama's plan to end combat operations in August 2010. "Two brigade combat teams who were scheduled to redeploy in the next six months, along with enabling forces such as logistics, engineers and intelligence, will not be replaced," the U.S. military said in a statement. Reducing the number of U.S. combat brigades in Iraq from 14 to 12 would cut the number of American troops, currently around 140,000, by 12,000, said Major-General David Perkins, spokesman for U.S. forces in Iraq. Six years after the U.S.-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein, Obama plans to pull all combat troops out of Iraq by Aug. 31, 2010, leaving 35,000 to 50,000 support and training troops as Washington shifts its military focus to Afghanistan. Last month, Obama ordered 17,000 extra troops to Afghanistan, part of his plan to tackle a troublesome insurgency there and fulfil his campaign promises to wind down the unpopular war in Iraq. Under a U.S.-Iraqi security pact negotiated by former President George W. Bush that took effect on Jan. 1, the United States must withdraw all its troops from Iraq by end-2011. Perkins told a news conference 4,000 troops from Britain, Bush's chief ally in the 2003 invasion, would also depart Iraq in coming months. The sectarian and insurgent violence that has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of Iraqis and more than 4,500 foreign troops since 2003 has fallen off sharply. But Iraq remains a dangerous place and insurgents continue to stage regular attacks in places such as the northern city of Mosul, seen a last urban stronghold for Sunni Islamist al Qaeda. Just hours before U.S. officials announced the troop reduction plans, a suicide bomber killed 28 people as recruits gathered at a Baghdad police academy, the first large-scale attack in the capital in almost a month. "What happened today will not undermine overall security improvements," Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said. Continuing violence raises questions about the readiness of Iraqi forces to take charge of security just a few months before better-equipped and better-trained U.S. combat forces are due to withdraw from Iraqi cities. General Ray Odierno, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, has advocated a cautious approach to removing troops from a country that many fear could tip back into rampant bloodshed. Perkins said the military would re-examine its allocation of troops as the overall force dwindles. "We will reposition assets through the country ... based on the threat level," he said. U.S. forces across Iraq are increasingly focused on training local forces, whose ranks have swelled by hundreds of thousands since they were disbanded by U.S. officials in 2003. Iraq still faces grave threats to its stability, including deep divisions over power and resources that often pit Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki against political rivals. Such rifts could be exacerbated as Iraq gears up for national elections scheduled for December -- especially the fault line between Maliki and minority Kurds, who are seeking greater leverage for their semi-autonomous northern region. U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates has suggested the United States should be prepared to maintain a "modest" military presence to assist Iraqi forces beyond 2011 if asked to do so by Iraq's government. But Dabbagh, speaking alongside U.S. officials on Sunday, appeared to rule out that possibility. "The Iraqi government has no intention to accept the presence of foreign troops after 2011," he said.

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