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Iraq Troop Rotations Planned
Associated Press  |  June 08, 2006
WASHINGTON - An Army brigade whose deployment to Iraq was put on hold just last month - triggering talk that a U.S. troop cut might be in the offing - is now scheduled to be sent there this summer, a defense official said Wednesday.

The move suggests that American commanders are sticking largely to their original plan for early summer troop rotations, leaving unclear when and if a sizable reduction in U.S. troop levels will begin this year.

The top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, said last year that he expected "fairly substantial" reductions this spring and summer so long as progress on the political and security fronts remained on track.

There are about 132,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. Pentagon officials had figured that a reduction to about 100,000 by the end of the year was feasible. However, the situation has been complicated by delays in the naming of Iraqi ministers of defense and the interior, as well as by unrelenting sectarian violence, especially in Baghdad.

In a report to Congress last week, the Pentagon said the weekly average number of attacks against U.S. and Iraqi forces between February and May was the highest for any similar period since Iraqi sovereignty was restored in June 2004.

On May 8, the Pentagon announced that the 2nd Brigade of the 1st Infantry Division, based at Schweinfurt, Germany, would not begin its deployment to Iraq as scheduled. It said the brigade, with about 3,500 Soldiers, was receiving a revised deployment date but did not disclose the date. It also said the delayed deployment reflected a desire by U.S. commanders to assess the security situation and consult with Iraqi officials.

Since then violence, including sectarian strife, has not abated. U.S. officials have even acknowledged in recent days that the insurgents have a degree of control over Ramadi, a provincial capital west of Baghdad. The Army sent an extra 1,500 troops from Kuwait to the Ramadi area in recent days to cope with the violence.

Although the brigade in Germany has begun preparing to load its equipment for shipment to Iraq, a final decision on sending the Soldiers is pending, the official said, adding that it likely would be made this week. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss troop movement plans publicly.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld had cautioned against reading too much into the May 8 announcement that the brigade's deployment had been delayed. Two days later, he told a radio interviewer that people who assumed it signaled a decline in troop levels were "taking one tulip and deciding its spring."

Among the combat units scheduled to head for Iraq this summer is the 3rd Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division, based at Fort Lewis. The brigade's vehicles and other equipment left a Washington state port in late May and its 4,000 Soldiers are scheduled to begin heading for Iraq later this month, officials said.

The brigade, which previously served a one-year tour in Iraq, held a deployment ceremony at Fort Lewis last Friday.

Also Wednesday, Senate Democrats, upset by the cancellation of a classified briefing on Iraq they say a bipartisan group of senators was to get, wrote to the president, urging him "to publicly commit to providing members of Congress sustained and comprehensive briefings and consultations."

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