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Pace: US can't withdraw any forces
Yahoo News/AFP
by Jim Mannion
May 17, 2006

WASHINGTON (AFP) - US and coalition forces cannot yet be withdrawn from even Iraq's most stable regions, despite progress made in building up Iraqi security forces, the US military chief said.

Testifying alongside US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, General Peter Pace was asked whether coalition forces could withdraw within the next three months from any of 14 Iraqi provinces that he had described as calm and stable.

"No, sir," Pace told members of a Senate appropriations subcommittee considering an administration request for 66.3 billion dollars in additional military funding, most of it for Iraq.

Rumsfeld said he expected a new Iraqi cabinet to be formed by a May 21 deadline, ending a political bottleneck that has held up major decisions on the future of the 130,000-strong US force in Iraq.

The US military commander in Iraq, General George Casey, said last year he anticipated a substantial reduction in the US force this year, but neither Rumsfeld nor Pace gave any indication that cuts are imminent.

"If General Casey were here, he would say that there must be reasonable security, there must be a reasonable economic opportunity, and to have either one you've got to have a unity government," Rumsfeld said.

"So we're not going to get the security, in my view, in his view, unless the new government engages the country, has a reconciliation process and demonstrates to the Iraqi people that they have a stake in that government," he said.

The months-long struggle to form a new government in Iraq has been accompanied by a surge in sectarian violence, with Shiite militias in the security forces believed to be responsible for the kidnapping and killing of Sunnis.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California, said she was concerned that US forces are being caught in the middle. She singled out the Shiite militia led by radical cleric Moqtada Sadr as a source of particular concern.

"It seems to me the time is upon us to transition that mission and begin to confine our presence to logistics and support and move our people out," she said.

"I don't disagree with the construct you've presented," Rumsfeld replied. "We ought to be worried about Sadr and his militia. Armed militias in a country with a democracy is inconsistent with the success of that democracy."

He said US commanders were wrestling with how many US troops were needed to foster security without becoming the fuel for the insurgency, he said.

Rumsfeld noted that Iraqi Prime Minister-designate Nuri al-Maliki had spoken out publicly on the need to address the militias.

Maliki, who has been struggling to form a broad-based cabinet, has decided on a defense minister, but debate was still under way over who should head the interior and finance ministries, Rumsfeld told the senators.

The US military has continued to hand over territory to Iraqi security forces in the meantime, Pace said.

US forces have closed or turned over to Iraqis 34 operating bases this year, shrinking their numbers from 110 to 76. About 20 more are slated to be handed over or closed, he said.

Only two of Iraq's 10 divisions are "in the lead," meaning they control their own territory, according to Pace. But half of the Iraqi army's 30 brigades now have the lead responsibility for security in assigned areas, he said.

"There are still logistics and command and control parts of their army that need to be built for them to be able to sustain themselves completely," he said.

With the US course in Iraq under growing fire, Rumsfeld has faced insistent calls for his resignation, most recently by a group of retired generals, some of whom commanded forces in Iraq.

Asked whether military morale has suffered, Rumsfeld said, "I haven't done any polling or taken temperatures in that. I haven't noticed anything."

Original Text

On TV Pace says everything is going great, but when he's looking for money he says the opposite. Which is most likely true? Who knows.