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Violence dashes hopes for troop reductions

Published July 29, 2006

WASHINGTON - The Pentagon's decision to increase U.S. forces in Iraq will push troop levels there to roughly 135,000, dashing Bush administration hopes of dropping the figure by tens of thousands by the fall congressional campaigns.

As of Friday, there were 16 Army and Marine brigades in Iraq, two more than the number several months ago. Total troops there had already reached 132,000 and will climb in the coming weeks because of a decision to delay the scheduled return home this month of an Alaskan Army brigade.

The decision came in response to the escalating violence in Baghdad, and the new troop levels could remain for much of the next year.

"You're going to see that spike, that is a sustained spike, for a while, and you're going to still have force rotations that take place," said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman. He added that the increases could push totals above 135,000 when brigades overlap as they are moving in and out of the country.

A four-hour vehicle ban reduced violence in Iraq on Friday, the main Muslim day of worship. The ban has been imposed on Fridays for weeks to prevent bombings of mosques.

Nevertheless, four people were killed and nine were wounded when a bomb exploded near a Sunni mosque in southeast Baghdad, police Capt. Ahmed Ali said.

The troop increase comes as members of Congress are preparing to return to their home districts and push into their re-election campaigns - and it robs them of the ability to tell an increasingly impatient public that the number of U.S. troops in Iraq will substantially drop by the end of the year.

"It is deeply troubling to me that after more than three years, the Bush administration appears no closer to having a plan for turning over full responsibility for security to the Iraqi government, which is where it must reside if Iraq is to be a fully sovereign country," said Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn.

But Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner, R-Va., said, "It's not a point of disappointment or bad news. It's factual" that the troops are needed.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has been steadfast in his insistence that troop levels will be adjusted according to conditions on the ground. Still, officials, including military commanders and lawmakers, had hoped to see the numbers drop to about 100,000 by year's end.

Earlier this year, there were suggestions that the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, would make recommendations to Rumsfeld in the spring that could begin showing a decrease in American troops. But a Tuesday announcement mapping out five more Army and Marine brigades scheduled to go to Iraq later this year signaled that any decrease is highly unlikely.

"This is somewhat disappointing, but I don't think it's a case of the administration or Gen. Casey breaking faith with anyone," said Andrew Krepinevich, a retired Army officer who is now executive director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. "The next six months are critical. ... There are a number of things that are coming together and if you need to have troops on hand to tilt odds in your favor, that's what you do."

[Last modified July 29, 2006, 02:24:32]

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