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Iraq Transition

Rumsfeld: Bush to cut back U.S. troops in Iraq

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld speaks to reporters as U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad listens.


Saddam Hussein

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- President Bush has authorized a reduction in U.S. combat troops in Iraq, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Friday, talking before troops at Camp Falluja, Iraq.

"At the recommendation of our military commanders and in consultation with our coalition partners and with the Iraqi government, President Bush has authorized an adjustment in U.S. combat brigades in Iraq from 17 to 15," Rumsfeld told 400 to 500 U.S. troops.

The adjustments will reduce forces in Iraq below the base-line level of 138,000 -- which has provided the guideline for most of the year -- by spring 2006. There were 160,000 U.S. troops in Iraq as elections approached, Rumsfeld said.

A statement issued by the U.S. military said one brigade -- the 1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Division -- would not be deployed to Iraq, and a second brigade scheduled to deploy to Iraq -- the 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division -- would remain in Kuwait as a "call forward" force for support if necessary.

About 3,500 soldiers are in each brigade, the statement said.

U.S. officials praise Iraqi forces

Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, indicated there could be another recommendation for an additional drawdown in the spring.

Casey and Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, issued a joint statement praising the current move.

"This adjustment is an indication of the remarkable progress Iraq is making," the statement said. "It clearly demonstrates the dramatic increase in capabilities of the Iraqi security forces. This move would not have been possible without the dedication, bravery and sacrifice of your Iraqi security forces."

The Iraqi forces, which now surpass 200,000 -- "continue to grow, improve and conduct more and more independent operations each day," the statement said.

Rumsfeld flew into Iraq from Afghanistan on Thursday, and Casey met him at Baghdad International Airport.

Rumsfeld then went on to Amman, Jordan, before returning to Baghdad.

Election fraud allegations probed

Iraqi and U.N. electoral officials are examining allegations of fraud in the December 15 parliamentary elections, a U.S. diplomat said Friday.

Meanwhile, Sunni Arab demonstrators turned out in Baghdad to protest electoral problems. News footage showed chanting demonstrators holding banners and posters of the Iraq Accord Front, the top Sunni Arab political coalition. Protesters also took to the streets of Tikrit, Ramadi, Mosul and Samarra, said a spokesman for the Sunni bloc.

Robert Ford, a political adviser at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, said the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq and a U.N. team of advisers are looking into the election complaints.

"It is important that the elections are considered credible by all political parties in Iraq; therefore, we must take the proper steps," Ford said.

Electoral problems prompted secular Shiite and Sunni Arab groups on Thursday to protest the latest partial results in which the Shiite-led United Iraqi Alliance has a commanding lead.

The United Iraqi Alliance is the most powerful party in the transitional government's ruling coalition.

The groups are talking about conducting protests and even boycotting the new parliament, the Council of Representatives, if complaints of fraud are not properly addressed.

Ford said the investigation would delay announcing results but added that "it's more important that the results be credible."

U.S. officials are hopeful that a new government will foster Shiite-Sunni harmony, which has been elusive during the insurgency.

But representatives from Sunni, Kurdish and secular Shiite groups on Thursday rejected the preliminary results, claiming fraud.

Their umbrella group, called Maram, is calling for new elections. The group wants the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq -- which oversaw last week's vote -- to be disbanded and an alternative set up.

If that isn't done, Maram plans to call for nationwide peaceful demonstrations. Reports indicate a boycott of the new Council of Representatives could be in the works.

Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said citizens and groups have a right to raise complaints, and those concerns must be reviewed in the legally mandated process that the electoral panel is using.

Other developments

  • A court convicted a Dutch chemicals merchant of war crimes Friday for having provided Saddam Hussein's regime with chemicals used in the mass murder of Iraqi Kurds in the 1980s. Frans van Anraat, 63, was sentenced to 15 years in prison. The court didn't convict him of genocide, saying he did not know that it was the policy of Hussein's regime. Van Anraat's attorneys argued he did not know the chemicals he provided to Iraq would be used in attacks. (Full story)
  • Two Task Force Baghdad soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb Friday, the U.S. military said. The number of U.S. military fatalities in the Iraq war stands at 2,163. On Thursday, a Task Force Baghdad soldier was killed by an explosive during a patrol in the Iraqi capital.
  • At least 19 people were killed and 24 wounded Friday in two separate incidents, a suicide bombing outside a Shiite mosque in Balad Ruz and an attack on a checkpoint north of Baquba, officials said. The mosque blast went off as noon prayers were going on inside, according to police in Baquba, about 15 miles (24 kilometers) west of Balad Ruz. Ten people were killed and four wounded.
  • In the checkpoint attack, on Adhaim highway about 37 miles (60 kilometers) north of Baquba, gunmen killed nine people and wounded 20 others, according to an official with Diyala's provincial Joint Coordination Center. One of those killed was a police officer, and the others were Iraqi soldiers, a U.S. military officer said.
  • Three unidentified bodies were found early Friday in the Sina'ai neighborhood of Baquba, said the Joint Coordination Center official. The three had been shot to death. Another body was found in Khalis, about 15 miles (24 kilometers) north of Baquba. That person, who remained unidentified, also had been shot to death, the official said.
  • CNN's Arwa Damon and Mohammed Tawfeeq contributed to this report.

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