When can we leave?
By Sally B. Donnelly
(TIME) -- Pentagon officials have been saying for some time that Iraqis must take more responsibility for securing their country. But can these local forces protect its critical infrastructure without U.S. help? Top American officials disagree, and that has caused friction between the State and Defense departments and may complicate the planned reduction of U.S. troops.
The State Department's top official in Iraq, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, argues vigorously that the United States needs to maintain a robust military presence around areas such as oil pipelines and power grids, targeted by the insurgents. The Iraqis have organized special battalions to guard those assets. Yet Khalilzad, say military sources, is not that convinced the Iraqis are up to the job. That has sparked a sharp disagreement with General George Casey, the Pentagon's top commander in Iraq.
"Casey is telling the ambassador, 'The Iraqis got it,'" a military source tells TIME. "I'm not sure the ambassador is listening."
A spokeswoman for the ambassador says there is no serious disagreement and that Casey and Khalilzad are addressing the issues in a new Joint Working Group.
One person who is listening to Casey is U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Casey will stay on as the top U.S. military officer in Iraq until 2007, rather than rotate out after the customary one-year tour.
Rumsfeld has also asked General John Abizaid, head of military operations in the Middle East, to extend his term for another year, Pentagon sources tell TIME, and Abizaid agreed. An Arabic speaker, Abizaid popularized the idea that the war on terrorism should be known as the Long War, a concept the Bush Administration has adopted. Long and costly would be more apt. Bush last week asked Congress for an additional $72.4 billion for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, bringing the tab to nearly $400 billion.
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