WASHINGTON – A top U.S. general in Iraq said Tuesday that reductions in American troops there could be possible by early next year despite the recent spasm of violence, but he said he was not ready yet to recommend any significant reductions.
Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, the No. 2 U.S. officer in Iraq, said creation of democratic institutions in Iraq could accomplish what American troops and Iraqi security personnel have been unable to achieve: The defeat of the insurgency.
If the new Iraqi government drafts a constitution that gains wide acceptance, “My assessment is the insurgency could dwindle down very quickly,” Vines told reporters at the Pentagon via teleconference from Iraq.
During an ebb in violence this spring, several top generals expressed confidence that the U.S. presence in Iraq could begin declining by March 2006, either through withdrawal of units or by sending fewer troops to replace those who are rotating home.
Violence has increased again. Still, Vines suggested a drawdown of four or five brigades – less than a quarter of the U.S. presence of 135,000 personnel – was possible if Iraqi elections later this year are successful and Iraq’s security forces continue to grow in ability and size.
In recent weeks, members of Congress, including some Republicans, have been introducing resolutions urging President Bush to formulate plans to begin taking U.S. troops out of Iraq.
Vines said he would oppose announcing any timeline for doing so because it would be based on arbitrary dates, not an assessment of the success of the U.S. mission. Other generals have also opposed such a move.
The general said the insurgency has become static in size and capability, despite U.S. and Iraqi operations to combat it, frequent reports of mass arrests and the disposal of weapons caches. Attacks across Iraq have returned to between 50 and 60 a day, roughly the same level as much of last year, Pentagon officials say.
“We don’t see the insurgency contracting or expanding right now,” Vines said.
He said there were four classes of insurgents in Iraq, fractured by motivation. But, given their origins and ideologies, he did not explain how members of those classes would be pacified by a constitution or a representative legislative body.
The group of foreigners led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who has declared allegiance to al Qaeda, is behind many of the spectacular suicide bombings on civilian targets.