- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 29, 2007

U.S. intelligence and military officials agree with President Bush’s belief that a withdrawal of troops from Iraq will increase the danger of global terrorism and further destabilize Iraq, the Middle East and other parts of the world.

Mr. Bush reiterated his position last week, saying that pulling troops out too soon would be “dangerous” to U.S. security.

“Those who justify withdrawing our troops from Iraq by denying the threat of al Qaeda in Iraq and its ties to Osama bin Laden ignore the clear consequences,” he said during a speech Tuesday at Charleston Air Force Base in South Carolina. “If we were to follow their advice, it would be dangerous for the world and disastrous for America.”

Army Lt. Gen. Ray Odierno, the commander of Multinational Corps Iraq, agrees that an abrupt change in strategy or a rapid withdrawal of U.S. troops could be dangerous.

“What I would hope for is that we are very deliberate if we have a change in strategy … and not try to do it in a very quick time frame, because I think there’s a lot of danger and risk associated with that,” Gen. Odierno said recently.

Two Democratic presidential candidates disagree with that viewpoint and are calling for an immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

“It doesn’t take legislation [to end the war],” Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich, Ohio Democrat, said Monday night during the CNN/YouTube presidential debate. “… We should tell President Bush: no more funds for the war. Use that money to bring the troops home.”

During the debate, Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico sought to differentiate himself from the Democratic senators running for president, saying he wants troops “home by the end of this year, in six months, with no residual forces.”

However, Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Barham Salih told the United Nations on July 20 that early withdrawal of U.S.-led forces “would cause a disaster for Iraq and the region.”

The best way forward, he said, is to ensure that Iraqi Security Forces are prepared to defend the country on their own.

“But we need time and space,” Mr. Salih said, according to the Associated Press. “We need sustained support from the international community.”

That support can be hard to find in the Democrat-controlled Congress.

The House voted July 12 to approve legislation that would require the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq to begin within 120 days and to be completed by April 1. The legislation calls for leaving a small force to train Iraqis and fight al Qaeda terrorists.

The Senate failed on July 18 to approve legislation requiring a deadline for a troop pullout. Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat and a leading war critic, echoed the sentiments of many in his party when he said that Mr. Bush’s troop “surge in Iraq is failing to make Iraq safer, and al Qaeda is growing stronger.”

Thomas Fingar, the deputy director of national intelligence for analysis, told the House Armed Services Committee on July 11 that a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq in January, which highlighted the dangers of a rapid troop pullout, is still valid.

“Coalition capabilities — including force levels, resources and operations — remain an essential stabilizing element in Iraq,” Mr. Fingar quoted the NIE as stating. “If coalition forces were withdrawn rapidly … we judge that this almost certainly would lead to a significant increase in the scale and scope of sectarian conflict in Iraq, intensify Sunni resistance of the Iraqi government and have adverse consequences for national reconciliation.”

The NIE also stated that a rapid pullout of the nearly 160,000 U.S. troops in Iraq could lead to military intervention by neighboring states, “massive civilian casualties” and efforts by al Qaeda to use part of the country “to plan increased attacks in and outside of Iraq.”

The assessment echoes that of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group (ISG), which released its final report on Dec. 6.

“We believe it would be wrong for the United States to abandon the country through a precipitate withdrawal of troops and support,” the report stated. “A premature American departure from Iraq would almost certainly produce greater sectarian violence and further deterioration of conditions.”

The group recommended withdrawing combat troops by March 2008. Former Rep. Lee H. Hamilton, Indiana Democrat and ISG co-chairman, said that timetable is still a good idea.

“I don’t think it’s too late, but there are certainly those who say this situation is certainly beyond repair and we had better just get out,” Mr. Hamilton recently told Reuters.

Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, said he is worried about moves in Washington to force a rapid troop withdrawal.

“If we pull out, there will be greatly increased sectarian violence, humanitarian concerns,” Gen. Petraeus told the Christian Science Monitor. “You don’t know what could happen in terms of dangerous conflicts, what could happen along the Kurdish-Shi’ite-Sunni fault lines, or how [Iraq’s] neighbors will react.”

Indeed, several foreign leaders and analysts have warned about the consequences of leaving Iraq prematurely.

“Withdrawal from Iraq without … preparing the necessary conditions that would ensure a strong central government able to run the affairs of the state … may only worsen the problem and contribute to increasing violence and conflict among Iraqis,” King Abdullah II of Jordan said in April.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, at a New York press conference on July 16, said, “A great caution should be taken for the sake of the Iraqi people. Any abrupt withdrawal or decision may lead to a further deterioration.”

A number of Arab diplomats and leaders of relief agencies also have warned that Iraq would devolve into chaos with massive casualties if the American troops left too soon.

“Be very careful,” one Middle East diplomat cautioned in an interview this week.

Joost Hiltermann, a Jordan-based analyst with the International Crisis Group, told The Washington Times: “I hated the Iraq war, [but] a hasty withdrawal would be dangerous for Iraq, for the region and for U.S. interests.”

The left-leaning Center for a New American Security last month called for a phased transition in Iraq over several years, including immediate plans to “gradually take U.S. forces out of the lead for security operations and reduce U.S. military forces in Iraq to approximately 60,000 by January 2009 (including about 20,000 advisers).”

Army Maj. Gen. Benjamin Mixon, commander of the Multinational Division-North in Iraq, said recentlythat the most important part of any troop-withdrawal plan is first deciding what kind of “end-state” should exist in Iraq and how important creating that is to the United States, the region and the world.

He warned of the consequences of a rapid withdrawal but also said the main elements of U.S. forces in northern Iraq could be cut back, beginning in January if a minimum force were left to train and assist the Iraqis.

“But it needs to be well thought out, and it cannot be a strategy that is based on, ‘Well, we need to leave.’ That’s not a strategy; that’s a withdrawal,” Gen. Mixon said.

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