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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2523

American Casualties in Iraq Rise to 4,000 as Political Debate Heats up

By Philip Fernando in Los Angeles for the Asian Tribune

Los Angeles, 24 March, (Asiantribune.com): Iraq war took front stage as the presidential candidates gave vent to their concerns about the situation in Iraq. The number of US soldiers who have died in Iraq stood at 4,000 as eight more succumbed to violence during the weekend. Seven soldiers were killed in two separate roadside bombs in Baghdad, one on Saturday and one on Sunday. The eighth was killed by “indirect fire”—mortar shells or rockets—on Friday south of Baghdad, according to the US military.

So far, 27 US soldiers have been killed in the month of March. Dozens of Iraqis were killed over the weekend in suicide bombings, and in raids carried out by the US. Barrack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John McCain would be commenting on the Iraq situation in greater depth as electioneering begins after the Easter break.

Attacks on the Green Zone have become less frequent in recent months, due in part to the ceasefire negotiated between the US occupying forces and the Mehdi Army militia of Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Sadr renewed the ceasefire last month, but there are sharp divisions within the largely impoverished Shiite population that forms his base and is intensely hostile to the U S presence. The surge in troops that seemed to dampen the escalation of violence has seen a reversal of that trend. Southern city of Kut and southern section of Baghdad may become embroiled in clashes according to some reports last week.

The US and British forces were planning for major operations in the Shiite-dominated south, including the city of Basra. A surge into Basra by the British forces may be expected. President George Bush commented on the situation on the fifth anniversary of the war hinting that things were looking better. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have issued repeated statements defending the extremely unpopular war. They have always maintained that US presence was still necessary and never mentioned a date for withdrawal. McCain has stated that the continued presence of some troops may last a very long time.

Number of troops in Iraq would remain round 130,000 to 140,000 at least until summer according to many reports. This figure is slightly higher than the number in Iraq prior to the beginning of the “surge” last year. The recommendations about troop strength will be formally presented this week according to the same sources.

General David Petraeus, the head of US forces in Iraq, and other officials would nee more time to assess the actual troop after some minor reduction in troops. As to the exact number of combat troops that may remain probably depended on the ground situation by mid summer. Some point out that even a partial withdrawal of American firepower could lead to a resurgence of resistance to the occupation along with sectarian conflict.

Deep divisions are felt in the country as the war continues. There is substantial concern that the integrity of the military has become severely compromised due to the strain of the Iraq war. There might be a move to reduce troop rotations to 12 months from their currently elevated level of 15 months.

It was widely reported recently that Admiral William J. Fallon, the leader of US Central Command, which overseas military operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, resigned after disagreements with the administration. Fallon reportedly wanted more withdrawals from Iraq and had also publicly opposed US action against Iran. These were denied by the administration.

Fallon may be called to testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee next month as requested by Democratic Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who is on the committee. Administration may try to stop such a move citing security concerns.

The debate about the need to win the war and also ensure long-term strength of the military and prepare for contingencies has been waging for some time now. The extent of the differences within the political establishment over Iraq policy as well as the stance taken by the politicians will be closely watched. The leading Democratic candidates Obama and Clinton have called for a faster withdrawal of US forces, positions they have sought to present as opposition to the war. McCain had supported the surge and insisted on not surrendering at several political debates.

- Asian Tribune -

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