US admits Iraq withdrawal plan
* Troops to drop below 100,000 by 2007: security adviser Rubaie
WASHINGTON: The White House for the first time has claimed ownership of an Iraq withdrawal plan, arguing that a troop pullout blueprint unveiled this past week by a Democratic senator was “remarkably similar” to its own.
It also signalled its acceptance of a recent US Senate amendment designed to pave the way for a phased US military withdrawal from the violence-torn country.
The statement by White House spokesman Scott McClellan came in response to a commentary published in The Washington Post by Joseph Biden, the top Democrat of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in which he said US forces would begin leaving Iraq next year “in large numbers.”
According to Biden, the United States would move about 50,000 servicemen out of the country by the end of 2006, and “a significant number” of the remaining 100,000 in 2007. The blueprint also calls for leaving only an unspecified “small force” either in Iraq or across the border to strike at concentrations of insurgents, if necessary. Less than two weeks ago, McClellan blasted Democratic Representative John Murtha, saying that by calling for an immediate withdrawal from Iraq, the congressman was “endorsing the policy positions of Michael Moore,” a stridently anti-war Hollywood filmmaker.
Even though President George W Bush has never publicly issued his own withdrawal plan and criticised calls for an early exit, the White House said many of the ideas expressed by the senator were its own.
In the statement, which was released under the headline “Senator Biden Adopts Key Portions Of Administration’s Plan For Victory In Iraq,” McClellan said the Bush administration welcomed Biden’s voice in the debate.
“Today, Senator Biden described a plan remarkably similar to the administration’s plan to fight and win the war on terror,” said the spokesman. He added that as Iraqi security forces gain strength and experience, “we can lessen our troop presence in the country without losing our capability to effectively defeat the terrorists.”
McClellan said the White House now saw “a strong consensus” building in Washington in favuor of Bush’s strategy in Iraq. The Biden plan calls for preparatory work to be done in the first six months of next year, ahead of the envisaged pullout. It includes: forging a compromise among Iraqi factions, under which the Sunnis must accept that they no longer rule Iraq and Shia and Kurds admit them into a power-sharing arrangement, building Iraq’s governing capacity, transferring authority to Iraqi security forces and establishing a contact group of the world’s major powers to become the Iraqi government’s primary international interlocutor.
The White House statement also embraced a Senate amendment to a defence authorisation bill overwhelmingly passed by the Senate on November 15 that asked the administration to make next year “a period of significant transition to full Iraqi sovereignty” thereby creating conditions “for the phased redeployment of United States forces from Iraq.” Meanwhile, Iraq’s national security adviser Mowaffak al Rubaie told CNN television that the number of US soldiers in Iraq, currently over 150,000, would probably fall below 100,000 by the beginning of 2007. “I can tell you, probably in the region of 30,000 American troops will pull out from Iraq by the first part of next year and another 30,000 by the end of next year,” Rubaie said.
Asked if he was saying that troop levels would drop below 100,000, al Rubaie replied, “exactly.” His comments came at the end of a week in which the US government was pushed by politicians to set a plan or schedule for reducing the number of US forces in Iraq. afp