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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 July 2007, 15:30 GMT 16:30 UK
Iraqi alarm at withdrawal debate
By Roger Hardy
Middle East analyst, BBC News

As the Bush administration faces mounting domestic pressure to withdraw from Iraq, senior Iraqi officials are responding with alarm.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari
Hoshyar Zebari has warned of civil war if a security vacuum is created
The Baghdad government's formal position, like that of the White House, is that US and other foreign forces should leave when the time is right.

But both believe the time is not right.

Both worry that opposition to the current policy from Democrats in Congress, and from a growing number of senior Republicans, could force a precipitate withdrawal.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari has warned that if that happened, Iraq could disintegrate.

The dangers, he said, would range from civil war to the division of the country or wider regional conflict.

Key deadline

The New York Times said this week that debate within the administration was intensifying over whether President George W Bush should announce he intended to begin a gradual withdrawal from the most violent parts of Baghdad and other cities.

This produced a denial from the White House.

For Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, the danger is that he would be left in the lurch, with a weak government and inadequate security forces

But the process of reviewing the current strategy - known as the surge - is already under way. The administration must present an interim report to Congress by 15 July.

Then in mid-September, Congress will hear the considered judgement of two top officials - General David Petraeus, the US commander in Iraq, and Ryan Crocker, the US ambassador in Baghdad.

Many now see that date as a key deadline.

The W-word

The W-word, withdrawal, is highly sensitive.

It is far more likely the administration, if and when it makes a decision, will speak of "drawdown" and "redeployment".

That means combat forces would begin to come home, leaving a residual force with a much scaled-down mission - to train Iraqi forces and continue the fight against al-Qaeda militants.

For President Bush, it will be one of the toughest decisions of his presidency.

Mr Crocker has added his voice to those warning of the possible consequences.

These include the spectre of a resurgent al-Qaeda, the complete collapse of Iraqi security forces, and interference by Iran, Turkey and other neighbours.

For Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, the danger is that he would be left in the lurch, with a weak government and inadequate security forces.

For both leaders, the stakes are formidably high.




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