Pullout from Iraq could happen in spring

Posted in Iraq | 28-Jul-05 | Author: Matt Kelley| Source: USA Today

BAGHDAD — The top U.S. military commander in Iraq expressed renewed confidence Wednesday that "substantial numbers" of the 135,000 U.S. troops in Iraq could be withdrawn next spring or summer despite continued insurgent violence.

Gen. George Casey cautioned the timing is contingent on sustained progress in developing Iraq's security forces and building a stable democratic government.

"I do believe that if the political process continues to go positively and if the development of the security forces continues to go as it is going," Casey said, "we'll still be able to take some very substantial reductions in the spring and summer of next year."

Iraq has made political progress with elections for a National Assembly and the establishment of a government, but the insurgency remains capable of regularly launching deadly attacks.

Casey, who made similar remarks about drawing down U.S. forces in March, said the level of insurgent attacks in Iraq has remained stable over the past year. He said the militants have shifted to more high-profile attacks, such as kidnapping diplomats and detonating car bombs. Car bombs hit a peak of 143 during May but have dropped off since.

Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said his government also wants foreign troop reductions. At a news conference with visiting Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, al-Jaafari said "we desire speed" in the troop withdrawal. But the prime minister said no timetable had been set.

President Bush has repeatedly said he won't set a timetable for withdrawing U.S. forces. Spokesman Scott McClellan said Wednesday that Bush "wants to see our troops come home," but not before conditions are right.

There are signs the public is growing concerned about the length of the mission and the inability to crush the insurgency. A recent USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll found a majority of Americans say they don't believe the United States will be able to establish a stable, democratic government in Iraq.

The Senate's second-ranking Democrat said he suspected the Bush administration was pushing for troop withdrawals because of worries about the erosion of public support for the Iraq war.

"We anticipated some troop withdrawal. They need to move public opinion in favor of their policy," said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

Rumsfeld, who was in Baghdad to meet with Iraqi officials, urged the Iraqis to avoid any delays in creating a constitution, a key phase in the country's move toward a permanent democratic government.

The deadline for completing the constitution is Aug. 15.

Also Wednesday, the terrorist group al-Qaeda in Iraq said in an Internet posting that it killed two kidnapped Algerian diplomats because of Algeria's ties to the United States and its crackdown on Islamic extremists.

Algeria's chief envoy, Ali Belaroussi, 62, and fellow diplomat Azzedine Belkadi, 47, were dragged from their cars and kidnapped at gunpoint July 21.

Contributing: Andrea Stone and wire reports