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Iraq: Rumsfeld Extends Duty For U.S. Troops

The recent surge of violence in Iraq has killed nearly 90 U.S. troops since the beginning of April, making it the bloodiest month for Americans since the start of the U.S.-led invasion a year ago. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has admitted he did not foresee such heavy casualties. He is responding to the violence by extending duty for thousands of soldiers already in Iraq. But some politicians say that alone will not be enough to bring order to the country.

Washington, 16 April 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Rumsfeld made it official yesterday: The United States will extend duty in Iraq for a large number of troops who were supposed to be relieved by arriving reinforcements.

The extension will keep the number of U.S. troops in Iraq at about 135,000. That number was supposed to have decreased to 115,000 by May, but the upsurge in violence appears to have ended any plans for reduction.
"Essentially we've approved the extension of roughly 20,000 forces, people who are currently in the theater, of which roughly a quarter, as I recall, are likely to be [Army National] Guard and Reserve personnel. The period will be for up to an additional 90 days in Iraq and up to 120 days' total deployment," Rumsfeld said.

The extension will keep the number of U.S. troops in Iraq at about 135,000. That number was supposed to have decreased to 115,000 by May, but the upsurge in violence appears to have ended any plans for reduction.

The troop extension affects many U.S. soldiers who have already been in Iraq for a year. Rumsfeld yesterday admitted the recent wave of U.S. casualties was unexpected, saying, "I certainly would not have estimated that we would have had the number of individuals lost that we have had lost in the last week."

There is also the suggestion that fresh troops will be deployed to Iraq to bolster the numbers even further. The top U.S. military commander, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Richard Myers, said in Baghdad yesterday his two top commanders in the field -- General John Abizaid and General Ricardo Sanchez -- want more resources, and will get them. "[U.S. Central Command chief] General Abizaid and General Sanchez have asked for more capability, given the current security situation here in Iraq, and that capability will, as in the past, be provided to our commanders in the field," Myers said.

On 13 April, U.S. President George W. Bush said he was ready to meet a request by Abizaid for an additional 10,000 troops to be sent to Iraq. But some critics say troops alone won't be enough to improve conditions in Iraq.

U.S. Senator Joseph Biden, the vice chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a member of the opposition Democratic Party, said yesterday Bush has little time to stabilize Iraq before the deadline of 30 June. That is when the United States says it will hand over sovereignty to an Iraqi administration.

Speaking in Washington, Biden recited a litany of what he called mistakes by Bush in Iraq. He said Bush ignored the opinions of key U.S. allies, and invaded Iraq with a force too small to occupy the country properly after the fall of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

And from the very beginning, Biden said, Bush ignored a detailed report drafted by the U.S. State Department that, in Biden's words, "predicted every problem" that the occupying forces have faced since Hussein's fall, and offered realistic ways to deal with these problems.

Instead, Biden said, Bush decided to have Rumsfeld's Defense Department handle the post-Hussein administration of Iraq, and it based its plans for this phase on the recommendations of longtime Iraqi exiles like Ahmad Chalabi, which turned out to be "folly."

Biden said time may be running out, but he stressed that the Bush can still restore order in Iraq and help set up a representative government if he acts quickly on several fronts.

According to Biden, the president must work hard to persuade America's friends to share the peacekeeping duties. He must engage the United Nations more fully as a political mediator. And he must find a way to get more countries and businesses to invest in Iraq's reconstruction.

In other words, Biden said, Bush has to diminish the U.S. role in Iraq -- for both Iraq's sake and its own:

"We desperately need to take the American face off the occupation. Iraqi nationalism is on the rise, significantly underestimated, bringing Sunni and Shi'a factions together. And even if their alliance is an alliance of convenience, even if it does not hold, we'll continue to be blamed for everything that goes wrong and remain the target for every malcontent in the region," Biden said.

Biden said the crux of Bush's Iraq problem is that from the very beginning he made what the senator called the "flawed assumption" that Iraq was an imminent threat to the Middle East and to the United States. Bush got popular support for the war in America, he said, but this was based on that flawed assumption.

That is no way to conduct a war or any other international endeavor, he said. "No foreign policy can be sustained in America, no matter how well conceived, without the informed consent of the American people. And in my humble opinion, we never received their informed consent because we never informed them of the details."

Recent public opinion polls show Bush's credibility on Iraq has been declining among Americans. But Biden said it is also not too late for Bush to regain their confidence. In fact, he said the president made a start during his news conference Tuesday night, in which he acknowledged that the work ahead in Iraq will be difficult.

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