Pentagon releases Iraq troop rotation plan
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- War-weary U.S. troops will begin rotating out of Iraq as soon as August, the Army's vice chief of staff said Wednesday, and the U.S. troop presence in that country will begin to decline by the second half of 2004.
"First in is first out, so the 3rd [Infantry Division] is coming out in August and September," said Gen. John Keane, following a briefing with the House Armed Services Committee on Iraq.
The Army's 3rd Infantry Division was the first unit to reach Baghdad. It has sustained the most deaths of any U.S. military division in Iraq, with 37 3rd Infantry Division soldiers killed in action, said a spokesman for the unit's home base at Fort Stewart, Georgia.
About 9,000 soldiers from the 3rd Infantry Division arrived in the Central Command region in two groups -- in September, 2002, and this January. Some have complained bitterly that there has been no exit strategy planned for them.
Replacing the 3rd Infantry Division will be soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division based in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, in a six-month long rotation.
Keane said the overall number of U.S. troops in Iraq -- now at about 156,000 -- will begin dropping by late next year.
The last troops to be rotated out of Iraq -- in April, 2004 -- would be the 173rd Airborne Brigade. That unit would not be replaced, a move that would effectively lower the number of personnel inside the country.
The Pentagon has been under pressure to put together a plan to inject fresh troops into Iraq to relieve tired and demoralized service members, who have been facing almost daily attacks since President Bush announced the end of major combat May 1.
Meanwhile, the Arabic-language TV network Al Arabiya aired an audiotape Wednesday, purportedly from deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein urging Iraqis to resist U.S. forces.
Al Arabiya said the tape was recorded on July 20 -- two days before U.S. forces killed Saddam's sons, Uday and Qusay Hussein, in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, according to U.S. officials.
On the tape, the speaker urges Iraqis to "raise troops in resistance" and fight against the "invading forces." (Full story)
Explosive devices kill two troops
Two U.S. soldiers were killed and nine wounded Wednesday in separate attacks when their convoys hit explosive devices, according to the U.S. military.
The soldiers' deaths raised the number of American troops killed in hostile action in Iraq to 39 since May 1. (Interactive: U.S. deaths as of July 21)
The first attack happened around 6 a.m. Wednesday (10 p.m. Tuesday EDT) near Mosul, the northern Iraqi city where American forces Tuesday swarmed a large house and killed Uday and Qusay.
Less than two hours later, a convoy from the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment struck another device near Ramadi -- about 70 miles (110 kilometers) west of Baghdad -- killing one U.S. soldier and wounding a soldier and a contractor, according to Central Command.
Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, commander of ground forces in Iraq, said that the killings of Saddam's sons would deal a blow to guerrillas who have been attacking U.S. forces in the country. (Saddam sons killed, Gallery: Timeline of the attack)
But L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. civil administrator of Iraq, admitted there was a risk of revenge attacks by Saddam loyalists.
In a White House Rose Garden appearance Wednesday, Bush said the deaths of Saddam's sons prove "the former regime is gone and will not be coming back." The president touted what he called Bremer's "comprehensive strategy" to restore order in Iraq and also called on other countries to assist the U.S.-led occupation. (Full story)
• Former U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry said Wednesday he believes intelligence about Iraq's suspected weapons programs and links to al Qaeda was "overstated" during the debate over war. "I am surprised that we have not found something in Iraq sooner," said Perry, who led the Pentagon during part of the Clinton administration. "We don't know the explanation for that, whether it was destroyed, whether it's hidden, whether it was appropriated by Iraqi colonels and therefore is someplace out still to be used, or whether the intelligence was overstated."
• The Russian Foreign Ministry declined to speculate Wednesday on what effect the deaths of Uday and Qusay Hussein might have on Iraq. "It is hard to say how this fact might influence further development of the situation in Iraq because the change of regime has already taken place," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Yuri Fedotov said. Russia had joined Germany and France in opposing U.S. military action in Iraq, citing the need for further weapons inspections. The country now supports the idea of a new Security Council resolution under which it might consider sending peacekeepers to Iraq.
CNN Correspondents Rym Brahimi, Nic Robertson, Barbara Starr and Harris Whitbeck and Moscow Bureau Chief Jill Dougherty contributed to this report.