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Research Group Calls for Phased Withdrawal of US Troops From Iraq

A new bi-partisan research organization has released a report proposing a timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Iraq and a detailed plan for how to achieve it. The Washington-based Center for a New American Security is urging the Bush administration to end its current surge of U.S. troops and withdraw 100,000 soldiers over the next 18 months. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel has details in this background report from Washington.

In recent weeks the final group of U.S. soldiers involved in the surge of nearly 30,000 additional troops arrived in Iraq.

The increase is an effort to quell sectarian violence and add more firepower to fight the insurgency.

U.S. military officials say it will take at least several months to know whether the surge is working and President Bush says the endeavor has only just begun.

"Right now we are at the beginning stage of the offensive," he said. "We finally got the troops there. Americans have got to understand it takes a while to mobilize additional troops and move them from the United States to Iraq and we got them there. Now we are beginning to move and there are hopeful signs."

A report by the Center for a New American Security says it is too soon to declare the strategy a success or failure.

The report points out, however, that while violence in parts of Baghdad was much lower during the first few months of the surge, the number of bodies found in the Iraqi capital soared 70 percent in May compared to the previous month.

The authors of the report say the Bush administration should stop the surge and launch a transition process to reduce the number of troops from about 160,000 today to about 60,000 by the end of next year.

Democratic Senator and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton addressed a conference organized by the research organization and appeared to endorse its basic recommendation.

"We have to realize that we are in the middle of a sectarian civil war in Iraq and that it is well past time to start withdrawing our troops from the middle of that war," she said.

The Bush administration is hoping that the security operation will give the Iraqi parliament time to pass new laws designed to ease sectarian tensions.

Democratic Senator Jack Reed told the conference that political progress in Iraq has been too slow.

"What I sense is the attitudes in Iraq are hardening, not softening," he said. "You have a conflict between a profound sense of paranoia among the Shi'ites and a profound sense of entitlement among Sunnis. That is a very difficult conflict to compromise and what is happening, I think, is that the hoped for political movement is not manifesting itself. Without that the prospect of real progress, politically, economically and socially is diminished each day."

The co-author of the report and vice president of the new center, James Miller, says the U.S. Army and Marine Corps are strained and will pay what he calls a terrible cost if the surge lasts for many months.

"There is a danger of U.S. strategic exhaustion if one attempts to continue the surge through the end of the Bush administration, certainly," he said. "Our view is that a new approach is needed."

Miller says the administration should revise its goals for Iraq's future, saying it is unlikely the country will soon become a beacon of democracy that will transform the Middle East.

He says the most important goal is to make sure the country does not become a safe haven for al-Qaida terrorists.

"We now know that before the Iraq war, al-Qaida had virtually no presence in Iraq," said Miller. "But the reality is that today Iraq is indeed the central front of the war on terrorism and recently has begun exporting terrorists out of Iraq. This is a long term challenge for the region, for the United States, but the fundamental interest is that the United States has an enduring interest that Iraq not resemble Afghanistan on September 10th, 2001."

The report urges the administration to aggressively pursue regional diplomacy as part of its plan for Iraq.

Retired Marine General Anthony Zinni told the conference containing the violence in Iraq from spilling over into neighboring countries may be the best strategy for security in the region.

"We need to step back and have a strategic design," he said. "The strategic design needs to be embedded within a regional context and a regional strategy and I think it ought to be something like containment and support and we ought to fall back and measure and lineup in that way. Stop talking about surges. A surge is not a strategy. A surge is a tactic."

The report says two other major priorities should be preventing regional war and stopping genocide from occurring inside Iraq.

The center's transition plan calls for all U.S. troops to be withdrawn from the country by the end of 2012.