General Warns of Risks in Iraq if G.I.’s Are Cut


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

November 16, 2006

General Warns of Risks in Iraq if G.I.'s Are Cut

WASHINGTON, Nov. 15 ‹ The top American military commander for the Middle East 
said Wednesday that to begin a significant troop withdrawal from Iraq over the 
next six months would lead to an increase in sectarian killings and hamper 
efforts to persuade the Iraqi government to make the difficult decisions needed 
to secure the country.

The commander, Gen. John P. Abizaid, made it clear that he did not endorse the 
phased troop withdrawals being proposed by Democratic lawmakers. Instead, he 
said the number of troops in Iraq might be increased by a small amount as part 
of new plans by American commanders to improve the training of the Iraqi Army.

General Abizaid did not rule out a larger troop increase, but he said the 
American military was stretched too thin to make such a step possible over the 
long term. And he said such an expansion might dissuade the Iraqis from making 
more of an effort to provide for their own security.

³We can put in 20,000 more Americans tomorrow and achieve a temporary effect,² 
he said. ³But when you look at the overall American force pool that¹s available 
out there, the ability to sustain that commitment is simply not something that 
we have right now with the size of the Army and the Marine Corps.²

General Abizaid also publicly said for the first time that the American position
in Iraq had been undermined by the Bush administration¹s decision not to deploy 
a larger force to stabilize the country in 2003. That decision was made after 
Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, the Army chief of staff at the time, told Congress that 
several hundred thousand troops would be needed. His testimony was derided by 
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, and the general was ostracized at the 
Pentagon before his retirement a few months later.

³General Shinseki was right that a greater international force contribution, 
U.S. force contribution and Iraqi force contribution should have been available 
immediately after major combat operations,² General Abizaid said. ³I think you 
can look back and say that more American troops would have been advisable in the
early stages of May, June, July.²

The testimony, given to the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, was the 
first by the American commander since August, and it followed several months of 
setbacks in Iraq that helped to fuel the Democratic victories in last week¹s 
election. Skepticism among lawmakers from both parties was palpable, and the 
concerns of the lawmakers were reinforced by intelligence officials who 
testified later in the day and who painted a more pessimistic portrait of the 
violence in Iraq than General Abizaid did.

Among the Iraq policy reviews now under way is an effort by the Iraq Study 
Group, led by James A. Baker III and Lee H. Hamilton, and a separate 
administration study ordered by President Bush.

Under the immediate initiative that General Abizaid described, the number of 
American military advisers working with Iraqi forces will be increased, with 
advisers to be assigned even to small Iraqi units with fewer than 200 soldiers.

³We need to put more American capacity into Iraqi units to make them more 
capable in their ability to confront the sectarian problem,² General Abizaid 
told the Senate Armed Services Committee. ³It is possible that we might have to 
go up in troop levels in order to increase the number of forces that go into the
Iraqi security forces, but I believe that¹s only temporary.²

The next steps in Iraq were very much on the mind of lawmakers on Wednesday. 
Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, cited the concerns of Marine Corps 
officers in Anbar Province in complaining that General Abizaid had not 
dispatched enough forces to defeat the insurgency there. Senator Hillary Rodham 
Clinton, Democrat of New York, said the Iraqi government was not taking the 
steps needed to win the trust of the population and improve security.

In their testimony on Wednesday, Gen. Michael V. Hayden, director of the Central
Intelligence Agency, and Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples, director of the Defense 
Intelligence Agency, said they agreed with General Abizaid that American forces 
were one of the few elements keeping a lid on violence in Iraq and that 
withdrawing troops would only increase sectarian violence.

But General Maples said that the violence continued to increase in ³scope, 
complexity and lethality² and that it was ³creating an atmosphere of fear and 
hardening sectarianism, which is empowering militias and vigilante groups.²

In all of Iraq, attacks against allied troops last month averaged 180 per day, 
up from 170 per day in September and 70 per day in January, General Maples said 
in written testimony. Daily attacks on Iraqi civilians averaged roughly 40 per 
day last month, four times higher than the average in January. General Maples 
also noted that recent operations in Baghdad had achieved only a moderate 
success, because after American officials had turned neighborhoods over to the 
Iraqis, ³attacks returned to and even surpassed preoperational levels.²

Reinforcing this view, General Hayden said the C.I.A. station in Baghdad 
assessed that Iraq was deteriorating to a chaotic state, with the political 
center disintegrating and rival factions increasingly warring with each other. 
³Their view of the battlefield is that it is descending into smaller and smaller
groups fighting over smaller and smaller issues over smaller and smaller pieces 
of territory,² he said.

The two intelligence officials said Wednesday that there were only an estimated 
1,300 foreign fighters in the country and that the number of Sunni Arab 
insurgents actively planning and carrying out attacks on American forces was 
probably more than 10,000.

Senator Jack Reed, Democrat of Rhode Island, asked General Abizaid how much time
the United States had to bring down the violence in Baghdad before events there 
were beyond the control of the Iraqi government. General Abizaid said the answer
was four to six months.

Securing Baghdad, the general said, was the main effort. But there are other 
difficult missions ahead, he said. One is supporting an Iraqi-led effort to 
disarm the Mahdi Army, the Shiite militia nominally loyal to the cleric Moktada 

Another is securing Anbar Province, the seat of the Sunni Arab insurgency. 
General Abizaid said that to try to hold the line there, he had decided to 
dispatch a 2,200-strong Marine Expeditionary Unit. ³Al Anbar Province is not 
under control,² General Abizaid said.

Many experts have advocated talking directly to Iran and Syria to help stabilize
Iraq, an approach the Iraq Study Group is expected to endorse. General Hayden 
said that Iran¹s ambitions inside Iraq seemed to be expanding and that Iran had 
been conducting a foreign policy of ³dangerous triumphalism.²

David M. Satterfield, the State Department¹s coordinator for Iraq, told the 
Senate committee that the United States was prepared ³in principle² to discuss 
the situation in Iraq with Iran, but the timing was uncertain.

³We are prepared in principle to discuss Iranian activities in Iraq,² Mr. 
Satterfield said. ³The timing of such a direct dialogue is one that we still 
have under review.²

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

Escaping the Matrix website
cyberjournal website  
subscribe cyberjournal list     mailto:•••@••.•••
Posting archives      
  cyberjournal forum  
  Achieving real democracy
  for readers of ETM  
  Community Empowerment
  Blogger made easy