The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 69/No. 16           April 25, 2005  
Rumsfeld: 'No exit strategy' from Iraq for U.S. troops
(front page)
WASHINGTON, D.C.— As part of responding to press reports that Washington would start cutting its troops in Iraq in 2006, U.S. defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld told U.S. soldiers during an April 12 visit to Baghdad that the Pentagon has no timetable for withdrawing its 150,000 troops from the country. “We don’t have an exit strategy, we have a victory strategy,” Rumsfeld said, according to the Bloomberg news service. “The goal is to help the Iraqi forces develop the skills and the capacity to provide their own security.”

Three days earlier, the Washington Post reported that Iraqi troops now patrol part of Mosul, Iraq’s third-largest city and a center of attacks on U.S. and Iraqi government forces. This registers an advance by the U.S. military in training the Iraqi armed forces and police to take over responsibility for security.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi National Assembly also took further steps in pulling together a new government. The presidential council—comprising President Jallal Talabani, who was appointed president April 6, and his two deputies—named as new prime minister Ibrahim Jaafari, a leader of the United Iraqi Alliance and a Shiite Muslim. A week later, Talabani called on Washington to maintain its forces in Iraq for at least two years. “We are trying to build, as soon as possible, our military,” Talabani told CNN. “Within two years we can do it.”

On April 9, tens of thousands of supporters of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi militia staged rallies in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq demanding the withdrawal of the U.S.-led occupation forces.

In the northern city of Mosul, Iraqi troops now patrol a sector of two square miles in the heart of the city. It is one of two Areas of Operations Iraq, covered by the U.S.-trained Iraqi armed forces. The other area is around Haifa Street in Baghdad. U.S. troops are on call nearby for emergency support, according to the Washington Post.

Last November, some 8,000 U.S.-trained Iraqi police and National Guardsmen were overrun in the city by forces loyal to the former Baath Party regime of Saddam Hussein. Baathist forces, including units of Hussein’s former military, staged the attack in Mosul in a failed effort to divert American forces from a ground assault on their stronghold in Fallujah.

In addition, the U.S. military claims it continues to takes steps in dismantling the Baathist-led armed groups. It has captured or killed several top leaders, including close lieutenants of Hussein, and of al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. On April 10, Iraqi authorities announced the arrest of Hussein’s cousin, Ibrahim Sabawi, reported the Daily Times of Pakistan. Sabawi is accused of channeling funds to antigovernment forces for attacks on U.S. troops and Iraqi security forces. As of early April, more than 17,000 men and women are being held by U.S. and Iraqi forces—most without charges—on suspicion of involvement in armed groups, according to the Daily Times.

Meanwhile, on April 7 Talabani appointed United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) leader Ibrahim Jaafari as prime minister. The alliance won a slim majority of the 275 seats in the National Assembly in the January elections. The UIA negotiated for two months with the slate led by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Kurdistan Democratic Party in order to form a coalition government. Talabani is the PUK’s central leader.

Iyad Allawi, the outgoing prime minister in the U.S.-picked interim government, announced that his bloc in the assembly would join the new regime. Allawi’s Iraqi Accord slate ran a distant third, gaining 40 seats.

Tens of thousands of supporters of Muqtada al-Sadr marched in Baghdad on the second anniversary of the overthrow of the Hussein regime, as the cleric seeks to increase his leverage with the new regime. The protesters demanded a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops, release of leaders of their group from prison, and more rapid steps toward a trial of Hussein. Moayed Kharzaji, a speaker at the protest, added another demand: that Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, no longer be a day off, the Washington Post reported. Al-Sadr’s militia suffered substantial losses in fierce battles with U.S. troops last year. In September, al-Sadr signed a peace accord and agreed to disarm the militia. His supporters participated in the elections but won few seats in the National Assembly.

Many of the marchers came from the Sadr City suburb of Baghdad. Others reportedly traveled from as far away as Amara, Nasiriyah, and Basra in the south. Overwhelmingly Shiite, demonstrators rallied in Fridos Square, where two years earlier U.S. troops tore down a huge statue of Saddam Hussein. “No America, No Saddam, Yes to Islam,” they chanted. The same day, about 1,500 people, mostly Sunnis, reportedly protested around similar demands in Ramadi.

As Talabani and Rumsfeld indicated subsequently, however, the U.S.-backed government and Washington and its allies have no plans to meet the main demand of the protesters any time soon.  
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