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Iraqi Official Expects 2006 US Troop Reductions

Iraq's national security adviser is predicting a drawdown of U.S. troops serving in his country over the next year.

Iraqi National Security Adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie says he, like President Bush, opposes any arbitrary deadline for withdrawing coalition forces from his nation. But, speaking on CNN's "Late Edition" program, he said he anticipates a significant reduction in U.S. troop levels during 2006.

"We want to create the right conditions for the Iraqi security forces to assume responsibility for security in these cities and towns. And. 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 [thousand] by the end of next year," Mr. al-Rubaie said.

Mr. al-Rubaie said that such a drawdown would leave fewer than 100-thousand U.S. servicemen in Iraq by 2007.

The Iraqi national security adviser downplayed the significance of a statement by Iraqi political, religious and ethnic leaders who met in Cairo last week. The gathering yielded a call for a timetable for a U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq. Mr. al-Rubaie said his government is in no way ungrateful for U.S. sacrifices made to promote democracy.

"We will not slap our strategic partner. We are partners with the United States. We are partners with Britain, and we will never turn our back on our friends, who have looked after us and helped us," Mr. al-Rubaie said.

Whether and when to reduce U.S. troop levels in Iraq continues to be a matter of intense debate in Washington, with some Democrats calling for a complete U.S. withdrawal next year.

Speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press" program, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Joseph Biden of Delaware, said success or failure for the United States in Iraq will be determined in the months to come.

"The question is not whether we are going to draw down troops in the year 2006. It is, when we draw down, what are we going to leave behind?," Mr. Biden asked. "Are we going to have traded a dictator for chaos, or are we going to have traded a dictator for a stable Iraq? That is the real question. And that depends on the president's [Bush's] actions from here out."

Mr. Biden said the U.S. military, as it is currently organized, cannot sustain today's troop levels in Iraq throughout the coming year, without imposing dire hardships on U.S. servicemen and their families.

That assertion was contested by the Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, John Warner of Virginia, who said current troop levels could be maintained by redeploying some servicemen in new capacities.

But Mr. Warner called on President Bush to speak directly and openly with the American people about the tasks at hand in Iraq and what needs to be done to defeat the insurgency and safeguard Iraq's fledgling democracy. He drew a comparison to President Franklin Roosevelt's so-called "fireside chats" with the American people, prior to and during the Second World War.

"I think it would be to Bush's advantage. It would bring him closer to the people [and] dispel some of the concern that, understandably, our people have about the loss of life and limb, the enormous cost of this war to the American public. We have got to stay firm for the next six months [in supporting democracy in Iraq]. It is a critical period," Mr. Warner said.

President Bush has said newly-trained Iraqi security forces will take over for U.S. servicemen, paving the way for American troops to come home. But the president has repeatedly cautioned that a premature U.S. withdrawal would embolden Iraq's insurgents and imperil everything the United States has fought to achieve in the post-Saddam era.