Troop cutbacks in Iraq? Yes and no

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on Friday U.S. combat forces in Iraq would be reduced by two brigades by early next year, but troops involved in training Iraq’s new military would be increased.

Rumsfeld, the second top U.S. official to visit Iraq this week in the wake of last week’s election, said progress in the Iraq’s political, economic and security spheres was largely behind the decision to scale back the combat troops.

“President (George W.) Bush has authorized an adjustment in U.S. combat brigades in Iraq from 17 to 15,” Rumsfeld said, addressing several hundred soldiers in a military camp east of Falluja.

“The adjustment being announced today is a recognition of the Iraqi people’s progress in assuming added responsibility for their country,” he said, adding that the U.S. and Iraqi governments would continue to evaluate the troop situation in the coming months.

He did not give the exact number of troops but a brigade normally consists of between 4,000 and 5,000 soldiers.

Previously U.S. officials had said two brigades due to arrive in Iraq to replace troops were from the 1st Armored Division headquarters in Germany and the 1st Infantry Division based at Fort Riley, Kansas.

The Pentagon had already announced that troop numbers would be reduced to the 138,000 that were in Iraq prior to the election last week. The current level is around 150,000.

Democrats have been pressuring the Bush administration to lay out plans for a withdrawal.

Rumsfeld said the reduction would take place by spring next year. “We anticipate future coalition force-level discussions at some point in 2006, after the new Iraqi government is in place and is prepared to discuss the future,” he added.

Taking questions from troops, Rumsfeld said the United States had no plans to set up a permanent base in Iraq, explaining that it had not been raised with Iraqi officials.

“Until now there has been no one to talk to,” he said.

Rumsfeld’s trop follows an eight hour visit to Iraq on Sunday by U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, a chief architect of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion which toppled former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

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