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Council on Foreign Relations Report Recommends US Troop Withdrawal From Iraq in 12-18 Months

A new report by a senior analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations recommends the United States withdraw most of its armed forces from Iraq within the next 12 to 18 months. The recommendation comes as more than 21,000 additional U.S. troops are arriving in Iraq in an effort to quell sectarian violence in Baghdad and fight insurgents in al-Anbar province. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel has details from Washington.

President Bush says there are "encouraging signs" that his new plan in Iraq is working, although it will be at least several months before all the additional U.S. troops arrive in the country.

Mr. Bush says as part of the surge strategy, the Iraqi Army has deployed three additional brigades to Baghdad and has lifted restrictions on U.S. forces entering specific neighborhoods.

The president says the Iraqi government is also beginning to deliver on benchmarks, such as a draft law to determine distribution of oil wealth.

However a new report, released by the Council on Foreign Relations, says the surge is not likely to bring stability to Baghdad or the rest of Iraq.

The report's author, Steven Simon, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies, says the United States lacks the military resources and the domestic and international political support to control the situation in Iraq.

"The main reason for disengaging militarily from Iraq is that the United States can not achieve its goals in Iraq militarily," he said. "It can not reshape a broken political system militarily."

Simon points to a recent Washington Post survey that shows a majority of Americans favor setting a deadline for withdrawing troops from Iraq.

He argues that early results of the surge should be known by the middle of this year, and planning to redeploy combat units should begin now.

"Failure of public support is going to force a withdrawal sooner rather than later, so I would argue it is better to leave sooner as part of a volitional process, in a methodical and systematic way, rather than to be forced out in a panic," he said.

Walter Slocombe has served in a variety of positions in the U.S. Department of Defense, and was a senior advisor in the Coalition Provisional Authority for Iraq.

Slocombe favors the surge, saying it is the only way to keep the violence from spiraling into an all-out genocidal conflict.

"We are seeing Iraq in the early stages of disintegrating into a civil war," he said. "None of the communities in Iraq will escape terrible consequences if that cycle is not broken."

The Council on Foreign Relations report says withdrawing combat troops after the surge should be managed carefully and be accompanied by broad diplomatic initiatives across the wider Middle East.