U.S. intelligence backs Bush view: Hasty pull­out risky

The Washington Times Weekly - - Front Page - By Bill Gertz

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 late last month, 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 July 24 speech 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 July 23 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. Ma­jor ity L eader Harr y 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 bi­par ti­san 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’iteSunni 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 Ki­moon, 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 last week.

Joost Hiltermann, a Jor­dan­based 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 re­cently that 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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