Petraeus Open to Pullout of 1 Brigade

By Robin Wright and Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, September 7, 2007

Army Gen. David H. Petraeus has indicated a willingness to consider a drawdown of one brigade of between 3,500 and 4,500 U.S. troops from Iraq early next year, with more to follow over the next months based on conditions on the ground, according to a senior U.S. official.

The pullouts would be contingent on the ability of U.S. and Iraqi forces to sustain what the administration heralds as recent gains in security and to make further gains in stabilizing Iraq. President Bush signaled the possibility of drawdowns after visiting Anbar province earlier this week. After meeting with Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, Bush said he was told that "if the kind of success we are now seeing continues, it will be possible to maintain the same level of security with fewer American forces."

Administration officials say the president will make the final decision about the overall strategy in Iraq, but they suggested that Bush is unlikely to depart significantly from recommendations made by top military officials. But on the eve of Petraeus's testimony before Congress early next week, there is still a diversity of opinion among top U.S. military officials on the eventual size and length of U.S. deployments. Petraeus's recommendations could fall on the conservative side of preferences among U.S. military planners, with the Joint Chiefs and Adm. William J. Fallon, head of the U.S. Central Command, concerned about the drain on U.S. forces and the heavy focus on Iraq, U.S. officials say.

The testimony of Petraeus and Crocker next week will follow a succession of recent analyses of the war that have painted a bleak picture of the Iraqi government's efforts to stand alone. The U.S. intelligence community has called the government dysfunctional and riven with sectarianism. The Government Accountability Office this week found little progress toward 18 measurable benchmarks that the president himself laid out in January. And, yesterday, retired Gen. James Jones, a former Marine Corps commandant, told lawmakers that significant numbers of U.S. troops could and should be pulled out of Iraq to spur Iraq's security forces to assume more control of their country.

Those reports have helped stoke a brewing rebellion among moderate lawmakers from both parties, who see an opportunity to drive their leaders toward compromise. Democratic leaders have signaled they are open to a more bipartisan approach to Iraq that would force the Bush administration to begin publicly planning for troop withdrawals but would stop short of requiring a firm timeline.

"Clearly, we don't have the numbers to override the president's vetoes, as has been clearly demonstrated," said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), "nor do we expect to for a long time."

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) has said that he could drop his demand for a firm troop withdrawal next spring to win GOP votes. And Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said this week that she will allow a vote on bipartisan troop legislation that, without requiring a redeployment, would force the administration to begin publicly planning for a withdrawal.

Even with the extension of deployments and the mobilization of reserves for multiple deployments, the troop buildup announced by Bush in January is already tentatively scheduled to draw down by significant numbers in March and April. Many U.S. officials expect the U.S. presence in Iraq to shrink to about 130,000 troops by next August; in effect, Petraeus is signaling it could be done a little faster, though not as fast as some in the Pentagon might want.

"The debate now is, do we want to be at 12 brigades in August or 15?" one administration official said recently.

The new effort at compromise by the Democratic leadership could alienate liberals. "You may end up with a revolt from my wing of the party if we do something that doesn't pass the smell test and, quite frankly, infuriates our constituents," said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), a firm opponent of the war.

But the bipartisan approach put Republican leaders on the defensive yesterday. They urged lawmakers to withhold judgment until next week, when they hear from Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and Crocker.

"Republicans have said all year that we will listen to those who have witnessed our successes and setbacks firsthand, and as next week's testimony approaches, we will await any recommendations, next steps or adjustments that may be needed in our strategy," said House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio).

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