Troop cuts coming, Rumsfeld hints

Associated Press
Published December 23, 2005

BAGHDAD - The United States soon will trim its military force in Iraq to slightly below 138,000 troops, the level it has considered its core force this year, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other U.S. officials hinted Thursday.

The cuts, probably in the 5,000 to 7,000 range, would be achieved by canceling the planned deployment to Iraq of two Army brigades and could be announced as early as today, officials said.

The reduction would bring the troop level in the insurgency-torn country to just above 130,000 sometime in the spring, the Associated Press quoted an unnamed U.S. Defense Department official as saying.

The reductions discussed Thursday would come in addition to Rumsfeld's previous announcement that about 20,000 troops are to return home after bolstering security during Iraq's fall elections.

Rumsfeld, on an unannounced trip to Iraq, was asked by reporters whether he had decided to hold back the deployment of the 1st Brigade of the 1st Infantry Division from Fort Riley, Kan., and the 2nd Brigade of the 1st Armored Division, now in Kuwait.

Other officials have said those brigades' planned deployments would be canceled, with small parts of each brigade probably going to help train Iraqis.

Rumsfeld would not answer directly, but hinted that an internal decision had been made. "Until it's announced, the government's decision hasn't been announced. Therefore, it's not final," he said.

NO BRITISH TIMETABLE: British Prime Minister Tony Blair, in Iraq on a surprise visit, said Thursday that Iraq's security and political situation had improved during the past year, but he refused to set a timetable for withdrawing British troops.

Polish Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz also visited Iraq as his government debates whether to extend the mission of its 1,400 troops. The previous government had pledged to withdraw the force in January, but a published report said Marcinkiewicz would extend it.

"You don't set an arbitrary timetable," Blair told reporters at a British logistics base near Basra in southern Iraq. "The whole purpose is to build up the Iraqi security forces so we can draw down our own strength."

JUDGE CONTRADICTS HUSSEIN: Investigative Judge Raid Juhi said Thursday that Iraqi officials repeatedly asked Saddam Hussein and his co-defendants if they had ever been beaten and they answered "no" every time, contradicting the ousted leader's claim he was abused by American guards.

Juhi told the Associated Press that a medical team would have investigated if Hussein or any of his seven co-defendants had complained of beatings or torture.

Like most sessions of the trial so far, Thursday's had its share of drama. The defense team threatened to walk out and a prosecutor tried to resign, saying he had been insulted by defendant Barazan Ibrahim, the head of the Iraqi intelligence services in 1982.

On Thursday, Hussein said American denials that he was beaten could not be believed, noting that no weapons of mass destruction had been found in Iraq despite President Bush's prewar claims that Hussein was harboring such weapons.

"The White House lied when it said Iraq had chemical weapons," Hussein said. "I reported all the wounds I got to three medical committees. . . . We are not lying; the White House is lying."

ITALIANS INVESTIGATE U.S. SOLDIER: A U.S. soldier, who has not been identified, is being investigated for his alleged role in the March killing in Baghdad of an Italian secret service agent who had just secured the release of a journalist held hostage, Italian prosecutor Franco Ionta and news reports said Thursday.

Rome prosecutors are investigating the March 4 death of Nicola Calipari, who was killed by U.S. gunfire near a checkpoint as he headed to the Baghdad airport with Italian journalist Giuliana Sgrena, who was held hostage by militants for a month.

Italian news agencies ANSA and Apcom said prosecutors are considering charging the soldier with murder, and also considering attempted murder charges concerning the other two people in the car: Sgrena and a second secret service agent, who was driving. Both were wounded.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said, "This was a tragic situation, but as far as we are concerned, the matter is closed."

THREAT TO BOYCOTT PARLIAMENT: Sunni Arab and secular Shiite factions demanded Thursday that an international body review complaints about voting fraud in last week's elections and threatened to boycott the new legislature.

The United Nations rejected the idea. "The U.N. is not going to conduct an independent review of the election results," U.N. associate spokesman Robert Sullivan said in New York.

The demand for a review came two days after preliminary returns indicated the current governing group, the Shiite religiously oriented United Iraqi Alliance, was getting bigger than expected majorities in Baghdad, which has large numbers of Shiites and Sunnis.