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Iraq Journals

Glimpses of life in a war-torn country by GNS national security correspondent John Yaukey and photo director Jeff Franko.


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Recall key dates, browse defining photos from six weeks of combat in Iraq. (Requires Flash)


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January 26, 2005

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Monday, November 3

Iraq exit scenarios clouded by violence, politics

By John Yaukey | GNS

WASHINGTON - Twenty-year-old Marine Jesus Suarez Del Solar died March 27 from a shrapnel wound as his unit advanced on Baghdad.

Since then, his father has pondered a question many Americans now ask themselves, especially after the downing of a U.S. helicopter near Baghdad Sunday that killed 16 soldiers: How and when will the United States get out of Iraq?

``The people in Iraq have no jobs, they have no money, they have no opportunity for peace,'' said Fernando Suarez, of Escondido, Calif. ``How will this end? Can you see a way out?''

The Bush administration is certainly feeling pressure for answers to those questions.

To be sure, the American-led reconstruction effort in Iraq is making progress. Schools are opening, lights are staying on and cafes are open at night - but all at a ponderous cost to Americans.

So far, American taxpayers will have to shell out $164 billion and counting.

Meanwhile, attacks against American troops sometimes exceed 30 per day.

The top U.S. officer in Iraq, Army Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, conceded last week that the Iraqi guerrillas are becoming more effective. He predicted lethal attacks in the near future, which turned out to be almost prophetic of the weekend's violence.

In 1966, after some particularly violent combat in Vietnam, Republican Sen. George Aiken of Vermont proposed declaring victory and leaving.

President Bush has made it clear that cutting and running is not an option in Iraq.

``We will not be intimidated,'' Bush said Monday during a speech in Alabama.

So what are the exit strategies?

More Iraqi forces

Some of the administration's critics on Iraq have argued for more American troops there to supplement the 132,000 now coming under daily attack.

But for the time being Bush has stressed that getting more Iraqis, rather than American forces, involved in security and government is the best strategy.

So far, coalition troops have trained and deployed about 80,000 Iraqi security forces, with plans to double that next year.

The Bush administration has instructed the Pentagon to restructure and accelerate the training schedule for Iraqi security officers, especially for duty as border guards and police officers and for service in military units. One option being considered is to recruit former soldiers from the Iraqi Army, which dissolved as coalition forces moved on Baghdad last April.

Once security has been established, U.S. forces will then have to ensure that Iraq's first democratic elections succeed. Senior administration officials have said that could take anywhere from less than a year to 18 months depending on how many hurdles arise.

Some of the most potentially nettlesome political questions surround Iraq's Shiite community, which makes up about 60 percent of the nation's population of 24 million.

The Shiites have shown themselves to be a fairly fractious group with factions that vehemently oppose the creation of a secular government. The Bush administration sees secular rule in Iraq as critical in preventing the rise of a strict Islamic state like Iran.

Refusal by Shiites to write a largely secular constitution before elections are held could bog the political process down, and keep American troops tied up with security work indefinitely.

It's still not clear how much more all this will cost.

The World Bank estimates rebuilding Iraq will ultimately cost $60 billion or more. Unless other countries are willing to foot more of the cost, the United States might have to cover another $30 billion, bringing the total cost of the war for taxpayers to almost $200 billion.

More foreign troops

The Bush administration clearly wants more foreign troops in Iraq as U.S. forces face increasingly violent attacks and the American presidential election approaches.

Foreign troops in Iraq now number about 24,000, but that's not likely to increase much anytime soon.

The administration has pressured key allies in the war on terror to provide more troops. But most, like Pakistan, have said they cannot commit forces unless the United Nations is given a significant role in running the rebuilding operation, which the Bush has decided against.

In some cases, it is not clear that more foreign forces would aid the reconstruction.

Turkey had considered volunteering 10,000 troops, but that was met with immediate opposition by Iraq's Kurdish population, which has clashed with the Turks in the past.

Key European allies Germany, France and Russia all opposed the war and have refused to send forces.

If attacks against U.S. troops continue, the administration's aim of cutting the number of troops by tens of thousands this winter might prove too ambitious.

More U.S. troops

Sending more American troops to enhance security and speed up the political process is a nonstarter for now, top administration officials made clear over the weekend.

As the election nears, Bush will be under tremendous political pressure to cut, rather than add, troops in Iraq.

Pentagon war planners want to pare down the U.S. presence to 90,000 troops by summer with more cuts over the following 12 months.

Exiting too soon, however, raises the risk of leaving a failed state that breeds terrorists.

For now, the administration remains committed to training Iraqis for security duty and gradually drawing down American forces.


Iraq by the numbers:

U.S. troops: 132,000 - 50,000 reservists and 29,000 Army and Air National Guard

Foreign troops: 24,000

Cost of war to U.S. taxpayers: $164 billion