IRAQ WITHDRAWAL UPDATE….Eric Schmitt reports on the latest plans for withdrawal from Iraq:

In a classified briefing to senior Pentagon officials last month, the top American commander in the Middle East outlined a plan that would gradually reduce American forces in Iraq by perhaps 20,000 to 30,000 troops by next spring if conditions on the ground permitted, three senior military officers and Defense Department officials said this week.

….But in his assessment, given as part of a larger regional analysis, General Abizaid also warned that it is possible that the Pentagon might have to keep the current levels of about 138,000 American soldiers in Iraq throughout 2006 if security and political trends are unfavorable for a withdrawal. The number of troops will temporarily increase this December to provide security for Iraqi elections. And some troops leaving Iraq could be held in Kuwait as a reserve force.

….”When you wake up in the morning and lose 14 marines, people say, ‘What’s going on?’ ” said Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House and a Republican, referring to the attack on Wednesday, when an armored troop carrier hit three stacked mines. “This is a very complicated equation.” Mr. Gingrich, a member of a Pentagon advisory panel, said military casualties in Iraq could play a prominent role in next fall’s Congressional elections.

It’s hard to know what to make of this, but the evidence seems to be mounting that the administration is pretty serious about starting a withdrawal before the 2006 midterms. Since I support a phased withdrawal, I guess this is good news, but it’s too bad that it’s so obviously being timed to coincide with American elections. Doesn’t that make it almost certain that the insurgents will time a massive uptick in attacks around October of next year in a misguided effort to affect the election results?

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