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US Extends Duty of Some 20,000 Soldiers in Iraq - 2004-04-15

The United States is extending the tour of some 20,000 American troops in Iraq, because of increasing attacks on coalition forces. The Pentagon is not ruling out sending even more troops to the country if the level of violence directed at coalition forces by Shiite and Sunni fighters does not diminish.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has approved a request from commanders in Iraq that will boost the level of U.S. troops there to about 135,000. About a quarter of the expected 20,000 Americans who are getting orders not to rotate out are National Guard and Reserve forces. He said,"We expect that they will be in Iraq for up to 90 additional days."

With the war now into its second year, some reservists have already been away from their civilian jobs for more than a year, prompting some families members to speak out against the war. Describing the current situation with Iraqi insurgents as a test of wills, Secretary Rumsfeld admitted Thursday he would not have anticipated the current level of violence in Iraq, especially attacks on coalition forces, a year ago. "If you had said to me a year ago, describe the situation you'll be in today, one year later, I don't know many people who would have described it, I would not have, described it the way it happens to be today," he added.

Coalition forces are now dealing with two major flash points. More than 2000 U.S. forces are surrounding the Shiite holy city of Najaf where negotiations continue with rebel cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, whose thousands of followers have staged an uprising against the U.S. led occupation. Iran, which has enormous influence with Iraq's Shiites, has sent a top foreign ministry official to Iraq to mediate an end to the standoff. However, one of Iran's diplomats posted in Baghdad was assassinated there Thursday by unknown gunmen. It's not known whether that attack was linked to Tehran's mediation efforts.

At the same time, U.S. military commanders say the town of Fallujah remains sealed off by U.S. Marines who continue to take fire from Sunni gunmen.

Relatives of three Japanese civilians were joyful as they watch news that their loved ones were freed. The Japanese civilians had been taken hostage last week and threatened with death by gunmen demanding Japan withdraw its 500 troops from Iraq, a demand Tokyo rejected.

And, U.S. officials say a new audio tape most likely has the voice of Osama bin-Laden. The tape has been broadcast on Arab television. The speaker offers a truce to European nations that do not take part in military action against Muslim countries, an offer key European nations rejected. Analysts are calling the apparent bin-Laden tape an attempt by the al-Qaida leader to drive wedge between Europe and the United States in the war on terrorism.