- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 5, 2003


The Marine Corps, which played a central role in toppling Saddam Hussein last spring, will return to Iraq as part of a U.S. troop rotation next year, officials said yesterday.

Since the Marines’ departure from Iraq in September, the military effort to stabilize and rebuild Iraq has fallen almost entirely to the Army, plus multinational units led by Britain and Poland.

The 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit recently began antismuggling operations in the Persian Gulf coastal area in southern Iraq. But no Marines have been doing stabilization operations, such as working with Iraqi civilians on rebuilding projects or hunting for fugitives loyal to Saddam, since the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force departed south-central Iraq in September.

Also included in the next U.S. rotation will be thousands of newly mobilized National Guard and Reserve troops, as well as active-duty Army units, such as the 1st Cavalry Division from Fort Hood, Texas, and the 1st Infantry Division in Germany, said officials who discussed the matter on the condition of anonymity.

No National Guard combat brigades will be called on, beyond the three already mobilized from North Carolina, Arkansas and Washington state to prepare for deployment to Iraq next year. The extra Guard and Reserve troops to be mobilized will be combat-support forces such as military police.

Instead of relying almost exclusively on the Army to provide reserve forces for support, the Pentagon intends to mobilize specialists from the reserve components of the Air Force and Navy, too.

On Capitol Hill, Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said troop orders were being issued yesterday and Pentagon officials planned to publicly release details today.

Gen. Pace said members of Congress were being briefed on the plan yesterday. He declined to give reporters details.

Gen. Pace said that by May the Pentagon expects to have just over 100,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, a drop of 30,000 from current levels. The Pentagon also hopes to have about 170,000 Iraqi security forces by then — compared with about 100,000 now — and two multinational divisions of about 12,000 each.

The Pentagon has struggled to set the troop rotation for 2004 because of the Bush administration’s inability so far to persuade its international partners to contribute significant troops. Turkey had offered to send thousands, but has balked in the face of Iraqi political opposition.

The Army has shouldered most of the burden of attempting to stabilize Iraq. It has been stretched thin by multiple overseas commitments, including antiterrorism efforts in Afghanistan as well as Iraq.

The first major Army unit to be replaced in Iraq next year is the 101st Airborne Division, which played an important role in the march to Baghdad.

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