Rumsfeld Announces U.S. Troop Reduction in Iraq

By Jonathan Finer and Omar Fekeiki
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, December 23, 2005; 3:12 PM

BAGHDAD, Dec. 23 -- Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld announced Friday that the number of U.S. combat troops in Iraq would be reduced by about 7,000 early next year.

Rumsfeld said the long-anticipated "adjustment" was made possible by political progress demonstrated in the country's heavily attended and largely peaceful elections last week and the development of Iraq's U.S.-trained police and army.

"This is a year of historic accomplishments in Iraq," said Rumsfeld, flanked by U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari and Iraq's interior and defense ministers. "We feel very pleased with the progress being made by the Iraqi Security Forces and the increased role they are playing in providing security in Iraq."

But during the news conference conducted inside Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, where most of the country's government offices are housed, more than 10,000 demonstrators took to the capital's streets over an election they consider a fraud, and the imam of an influential Sunni Muslim mosque told followers to expect more unrest ahead.

"Fraud enhances the occupation and ethnic divisions," one banner said.

Iraq's Sunni Arab minority, which ruled the country before Saddam Hussein was toppled and are believed to comprise the bulk of the insurgency, has recently returned to the political arena after boycotting the country's January elections. Sunnis turned out in force last week, but according to preliminary results, their parties' won fewer seats than they expected, an outcome they attribute to foul play by the Shiite Muslim-led government.

"I am frustrated," said Muhammed Mashadani, a 61-year-old man, who used a cane in one hand and carried an Iraqi flag in the other. Mashadani said he voted last week in favor of the Sunni Tawafuq slate, but "my right is abused because of the cheating." He said he would participate in every protest until "we bring our people to power."

Earlier, during Friday prayers at Baghdad's Sunni Um al-Qura mosque, Sheikh Mahmood Sumaydaie called on the people to "be prepared for ordeal and strife."

"Today, we are passing through crisis," he said. "Death is glory in the defense of Islam, and life is glory as we boycott cheating and fraud."

The troop reduction, which will amount to just over 5 percent of the roughly 138,000 U.S. combat forces, will be accomplished by diverting two brigades set to deploy to Iraq.

The Defense Department later announced that the troops affected by the new staffing order would be portions of the 1st Brigade of the 1st Infantry Division, based at Fort Riley, Kan., which had been scheduled to deploy to Iraq. Some members of that division, however, still will go to Iraq to conduct missions such as training Iraqi security forces. The 2nd Brigade of the 1st Armored Division, based in Baumholder, Germany, will remain in Kuwait as a call-forward force instead of moving into Iraq. Officials will determine when that brigade can return home based on the situation developing in Iraq, the military said.

Speaking to reporters after Rumsfeld's remarks, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said that he hoped a further reduction of forces could come as early as next spring.

The U.S. military also announced Friday the death of three American troops. One soldier on patrol in Baghdad was killed Thursday by an improvised explosive device while on patrol, and two others died Friday when their vehicle struck an improvised explosive device in the city.

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