- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 16, 2006


U.S. military authorities have decided to reinforce troop strength in Iraq, moving hundreds of soldiers to the Baghdad area from a base in Kuwait, to deal with continuing violence and the approach of a Shi’ite Muslim holiday.

Relocating an Army battalion of 700 to 800 soldiers is part of a broader plan, dubbed “Scales of Justice,” that includes the repositioning of several thousand U.S. and Iraqi security forces, officials said yesterday. They said the moves, which include two other Army battalions, come in anticipation of sectarian violence related to a Shi’ite pilgrimage this month marking the holiday.

The only unit added from outside Iraq is the battalion from Kuwait, which is part of the 1st Armored Division.

In a brief written announcement, the U.S. military headquarters in Baghdad did not mention the number of soldiers in the battalion that moved from Kuwait. But officers at the Pentagon, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said it was between 700 and 800 and included mechanized infantry with Bradley fighting vehicles as well as combat engineers.

Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, was quoted in a press release from Baghdad as saying he had discussed the plan with Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, “and we found it prudent to provide this additional support.”

“We called forces forward to provide support to the [Iraqi security forces] for a safe observance of the Arba’een religious holiday and the formation of the new Iraqi government,” Gen. Casey said.

Gen. Casey said the battalion would return to Kuwait “after its mission is completed,” but he did not elaborate.

The general did not say whether additional troop increases might be needed this spring. Last week, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said that although U.S. forces were prepared to support the Iraqis in any escalation of sectarian violence, the plan was to rely mainly on Iraq’s own security forces in the event of all-out civil war.

The “Scales of Justice” plan, which focuses on averting or responding to violence connected to the pilgrimage and the political wrangling over formation of a new government, includes two Iraqi army battalions and three Iraqi national police battalions, in addition to the three U.S. Army battalions. A total number of personnel associated with this plan was not provided in the Baghdad announcement, but it appeared to exceed 4,000.

The holiday pilgrimages are to holy sites in Najaf and Karbala, predominantly Shi’ite areas where the potential for sectarian violence would be of great concern. Increased attacks marked the celebration during 2004 and 2005.

Monday marks the end of the 40-day mourning period to commemorate the death of Imam Hussein in 680 A.D. He was the grandson of the prophet Muhammad and was killed in Karbala in present-day Iraq, now the site of large Shi’ite pilgrimages.

The extra Army troops in Iraq will relieve some of the burden from National Guard and Reserve forces on active duty for Iraq and the global fight against terrorism, which have fallen to less than 118,000, the lowest level since before the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The reduction is a welcome trend for U.S. citizen soldiers, who have been called to combat duty in numbers not seen in decades.

The main reason for the drop, Pentagon officials said, is that more active-duty combat units such as the Army’s 4th Infantry Division are returning to Iraq after extensive reorganizations. Guard and Reserve units, the bulk of which are in Iraq and Afghanistan, were filling more combat positions while the active-duty force was being reconfigured for the kinds of conflicts the Pentagon expects in the years ahead.

Lt. Col. Ellen Krenke, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said some “high demand” units such as military police, military intelligence and special operations forces have completed their 24 months of mobilization time. This means they are no longer available unless they volunteer.

The military says it does not expect the two-year mobilization limit to create a major problem unless the United States becomes involved in another major conflict.

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