TROOP WITHDRAWALS IN 2006?….According to a British document leaked to the Mail on Sunday, the Bush administration is seriously considering a major troop drawdown in Iraq. Glenn Frankel and Josh White of the Washington Post summarize:

The paper, which is marked “Secret ? UK Eyes Only,” said “emerging US plans assume that 14 out of 18 provinces could be handed over to Iraqi control by early 2006,” allowing a reduction in overall U.S.-led forces in Iraq to 66,000 troops. The current troop level is about 160,000.

….The memo notes a debate between U.S. officials at the Pentagon and military leaders in Iraq, saying that officials in Washington favor “a relatively bold reduction in force numbers,” differing with battlefield commanders, “whose approach is more cautious.” There are more than 135,000 U.S. troops currently in Iraq.

That’s funny. Bush and Rumsfeld keep telling us that they just provide the commanders on the ground with whatever troop levels they ask for. Peculiar that there’s a disagreement over this, isn’t it?

Plus, the drawdown would be just in time for midterm elections! What a coincidence!

POSTSCRIPT: The original Mail on Sunday story is here. The text of the memo is here. Here’s what it says about British troop deployments:

Looking further ahead, we have a clear UK military aspiration to hand over to Iraqi control in Al Muthanna and Maysan provinces in October 2005 and in the other two Multinational Division South East provinces, Dhi Qar and Basra in April 2006. [In other words, all four of the provinces currently under British control would be handed over to Iraqis by April 2006.]

This in turn should lead to a reduction in the total level of UK commitment in Iraq to around 3,000 personnel, ie small scale, by mid 2006.

That’s not a “ministerially endorsed” position, but it’s a “clear aspiration.” Looks like they’re pretty anxious to go home.