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Rumsfeld: New Iraq Government Will Have Say in Troop Levels

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 16, 2005 – The new year is likely to include troop reductions in Iraq, but exactly how quickly those reductions will occur will be based on recommendations of U.S. commanders there in conjunction with wishes of the new Iraqi government, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said here today.

One day after Iraq's parliamentary elections, Rumsfeld said during a Pentagon Channel interview it's too soon to know exactly what role that new government will want the United States to play.

Just as in the United States after an election, Iraq's new government is likely to take a few months to form, he said.

"They have to certify the vote, then seat the assembly," Rumsfeld said. Once the assembly organizes, it will select a president, deputy president and prime minister, who will select cabinet members to run the ministries.

"So it could take a couple of months," the secretary said. "That's not a long time, but in an environment that hostile, it is a long time."

The United States is anxious to see the process move forward as quickly as possible, and takes particular interest in decisions regarding the ministries of defense and interior, he said.

Yet to be seen, Rumsfeld said, is what role the new Iraqi government will want the United States military to play in its future.

He cited Afghanistan as a possible model, noting that the Afghan government has requested U.S. support in several areas. A strategic agreement between the two countries provides for U.S. operating sites in Bagram and Kandahar, U.S. help in training the Afghan National Army and counterterrorism support along the Pakistan border, where al Qaeda remains a threat, the secretary said.

"We'll see what happens in Iraq, to what extent they want some quick-reaction force assistance or some deterrent with respect to their neighbors or training of their troops, and then we would decide what is in our interest and what is in their interest," Rumsfeld said.

One thing's certain: the United States won't keep its forces where they're not wanted, he said. "I don't want our forces where they are not wanted. It is just that simple, I want them where they are wanted."

While those decisions are being made, the United States anticipates drawing down its forces in Iraq fairly quickly to pre-election levels, the secretary said.

"We anticipate coming down from a high of 160,000 (in support of the elections) to 137,000 sometime in January, and as the seating of the new government takes place, Gen. (George) Casey, (multinational force commander in Iraq), and Gen. (John) Abizaid, (U.S. Central Command commander), will make recommendations about how we might be able to further reduce coalition forces," he said.

"And I expect that to happen during 2006," Rumsfeld said. "We will see a drawdown as conditions permit."

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