Rumsfeld Announces Troop Cuts in Iraq
Saturday, December 24, 2005
BAGHDAD, Dec. 23 -- As anger over Iraq's disputed recent election boiled over in Baghdad's streets and mosques Friday, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld announced that the number of American combat troops in the country would be reduced by about 7,000 early next year.
Rumsfeld said the "adjustment" was made possible by political progress demonstrated in the elections last week and the development of Iraq's U.S.-trained police and army. U.S. officials have maintained that any reduction of American forces was contingent upon the capability of Iraqi security forces, who now number about 216,000.
"To successfully have three elections, fashion a constitution and ratify a constitution, and elect a government under that new constitution is a truly impressive accomplishment," said Rumsfeld, flanked by U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari and the country'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."
Meanwhile, the U.S. military announced Friday that three American soldiers died in improvised bomb attacks in Baghdad. One was killed while on patrol Thursday, and two died Friday when a blast struck their vehicle. Elsewhere, a suicide bombing and other insurgent attacks killed at least 17 people north of the capital.
While Rumsfeld spoke inside Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, more than 10,000 demonstrators gathered in the western part of the city to protest an election they called a sham. The imam of an influential Sunni mosque told followers to expect more unrest ahead.
"Fraud enhances the occupation and ethnic divisions," one banner said.
Iraq's Sunni Arabs, a minority that ruled the country before Saddam Hussein was toppled and is believed to make up the bulk of the insurgency, recently returned to the political arena after boycotting elections in January. They turned out in force for parliamentary elections 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. The largest Sunni parties have threatened to boycott Iraq's next parliament unless elections are repeated, a move election officials and Western diplomats have said is unlikely.
Iraq's election commission has received about 1,500 complaints of wrongdoing and reports of almost 50 serious grievances that could affect results, election officials have said. Each complaint will be investigated.
"I am frustrated," said Muhammed Mashadani, a 61-year-old man with a cane in one hand and an Iraqi flag in the other. Mashadani said he voted last week in favor of the Sunni Tawafaq 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 Um al-Qura mosque, Sheik Mahmoud Sumaidaie said to "be prepared for ordeal and strife."
"Today, we are passing through crisis," the imam said. "Death is glory in the defense of Islam, and life is glory as we boycott cheating and fraud."
The troop reduction -- previously reported in The Washington Post and elsewhere -- will amount to just over 5 percent of the roughly 138,000 U.S. combat forces in Iraq. It will be accomplished by diverting two brigades set to deploy to Iraq. Most of one will stay in the United States, while the other will be based in Kuwait and could be sent to Iraq if needed.