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Last Updated: Monday, 31 January, 2005, 02:45 GMT
US mulls Iraq post-election plans
By Adam Brookes
BBC News, Pentagon

US soldier posts election material in Iraq
US troops helped organise the poll, but what comes next?
Iraq's interim interior minister says he thinks there will be no need for foreign troops in Iraq in 18 months' time.

Falah al-Naqib, speaking on British television, said he thought that by that time Iraqis would be able to depend on themselves.

"Exit strategy" is a term everyone in Washington is thinking about and no one quite likes to use in public.

But the question of how and when US and other foreign troops can start leaving

Iraq is one of growing political significance for the Bush administration.

A Zogby poll in Iraq found that between 60% and 80% of Iraqis want foreign troops to leave when an elected government takes office.

But the Americans' policy is that US troop levels will only start being drawn down when the newly built Iraqi security forces are able to cope by themselves in the face of the insurgency.

Numbers game

During her confirmation hearings last week, the new Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that the Iraqi armed forces now totalled more than a 120,000 soldiers.

But independent analysts say that that figure is misleading.

Iraqi soldier
Numbers for fully-trained Iraqi troops may not be so impressive

A report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington says that effective Iraqi soldiers - those that are fully trained and fully equipped - number only around 11,000.

The report says only a handful of Iraqi battalions are able to engage insurgents without US support.

The high turnout and limited violence of Sunday's elections will probably encourage the hope that US troops could leave sooner rather than later.

But it is certain that US forces will remain throughout this year and it is very likely that American ground units will still be operational in Iraq throughout 2006 as well.

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