President Bush TV Speech To Back Iraq War Troop Reduction

President George Bush will reportedly endorse a plan to wind down the US troop surge in Iraq next summer during his national prime-time television address tonight. He is also expected to argue that there is an urgent need for US forces to contain the threat of Iranian aggression and expansion into Iraq.

General David Petraeus, in his testimony to the US Congress on Monday and Tuesday, recommended the withdrawal of 30,000 troops from Iraq in mid-2008, provided that conditions were favorable. He said that the violence in Iraq has been fuelled by “competition among ethnic and sectarian communities for power and resources”, a situation made worse by the “malign actions” of Iran and Syria.

US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker also told Congress that a swift withdrawal of US troops would result in unbridled chaos and civil war in Iraq, which would have catastrophic consequences for Iraqis and US interests in the region. “Undoubtedly, Iran would be a winner in this scenario, consolidating its influence over Iraqi resources and possibly territory,” he said. “The Iranian president has already announced that Iran will fill any vacuum in Iraq.”

General Petraeus also told Congress that there is now solid evidence that Iran has been supporting Shi’ite militants in Iraq. He said US troops had captured several leaders of the Iranian-supported Special Groups in Iraq, as well as the deputy commander of Hezbollah Department 2800 –  the organization created by the Iranian Qods Force to support the training, arming, funding and, in some cases, direction of Shi’ite militia extremists in Iraq.

He said he believes that Iran’s intention is to “turn the Shi’ite militia extremists into a Hezbollah-like force” to wage a “proxy war against the Iraqi state and coalition forces in Iraq.” They had assassinated and kidnapped members of the Iraqi government and had supplied local militants with Iranian-manufactured explosively formed penetrators (EFPs) – small bombs capable of ripping through heavily armored vehicles – which had caused numerous fatalities among US troops.

On Wednesday, General Petraeus told a press conference that when US forces captured Qais Khazali, the deputy commander of Hezbollah Department 2800, they interrogated him which led to further raids and arrests of local militants in Basra. During these raids, they found computer hard drives that contained “digitized items” taken from the wallet of one of five US soldiers killed in January in Karbala. In that attack, militants had stormed a security station, killing one soldier and kidnapping four others who were later found dead.

US interrogators asked Mr Khazali if the mission in Karbala could have been accomplished without Iranian support. General Petraeus said at that point, Mr Khazali “literally throws up his hands and laughs and says, ‘Of course not’.” He then detailed for his interrogators the amounts of money the group had received, as well as the training and weaponry they had been provided.

“And so, this is evidentiary – it is not just intelligence,” said General Petraeus. “It rises to the level of evidence, particularly what we captured when we got the hard drives of the computers from the individuals that we picked up in Basra.”

On Monday, the same day that General Petraeus began his testimony in Congress, the Wall Street Journal reported that US forces are now planning to build a military base in Iraq that will house 200 US troops four miles from the Iranian border; this is expected to be completed by November. The US will also install X-ray machines and explosives-detecting sensors at the main Iran-Iraq border crossing at Zurbatiya. At the same time, six fortified checkpoints will be constructed along the major highways that run from the Iranian border to Baghdad; however, these will be operated by soldiers from the former Soviet republic of Georgia.

Iran continues to deny long-standing US and British accusations that it has fomented violence in Iraq. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has always retorted that the violence in Iraq is the result of US-led coalition forces occupying the country.

President Bush has also accused Iran of destabilizing the region through its uranium enrichment program, citing widespread fears that Tehran is developing nuclear weapons which could lead to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. President Ahmadinejad has provoked further tensions with his repeated denials of the Holocaust and his calls for Israel to be “wiped off the map”.

Fears of a US-Iran war reached fever pitch earlier this year when President Bush ordered two aircraft carriers into the Persian Gulf to conduct “war games”. When the Iranians took fifteen British sailors hostage, the American show of strength was scaled down, reportedly at the request of British negotiators who were in the process of (successfully) securing the hostages’ release.

Speculation is growing that the US is once again squaring off with Iran in preparation for military strikes, as the Bush administration shifts the focus of the Iraq war debate to move Iran closer to center-stage.

On the web site AlterNet, former CIA analyst Ray McGovern said the renewed focus on Iran “… is about the requirement for a scapegoat for US reverses in Iraq and the White House’s felt need to create a casus belli by provoking Iran in such a way as to ‘justify’ armed retaliation … including air strikes on its nuclear-related facilities.”

Security expert Larry Johnson, also a former CIA analyst, noted that while there is evidence that Iran is supporting Shi’ite militia groups, there is yet no evidence that it is a major force backing the insurgency. On his web site NoQuarter, Mr Johnson said, “[Yet] the Bush Administration is calculating that this justification will allow them to bomb Iranian targets without fear of Congressional interference.”

President Bush’s national address will be televised at 8.00 p.m. CDT.

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