Why David Petraeus Wants to Go Slowly on Troop Drawdowns

Why David Petraeus wants to go slowly on troop drawdowns

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U.S. soldiers sit and listen to Iraqis at a cafe during their patrol last week in Baghdad.

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In weighing the pace of a troop withdrawal, Petraeus is acutely conscious of the high price U.S. soldiers and marines have paid to win the current decline in violence. In Dora and southern Baghdad, for instance, Col. Ricky Gibbs's brigade—roughly 4,000 soldiers—has lost 88 killed in action and more than 700 wounded since arriving in March. On a recent Saturday, shops were open all along the main commercial road of northeast Dora. "Eighteen months ago, only stray dogs would walk on this street," remarked Ibrahim, the legislator. In Dora since September, no American soldiers have been attacked and Iraqi deaths have fallen dramatically, from 563 in January 2007 to 35 in December. "Sunnis have come to feel reliberated over the past year," says Petraeus.

Volunteers. The 1,200 so-called Sunni volunteers who have come forward to help guard and clean up Dora include former members of Saddam's security services and even a cardiologist named Moayad Hamad al-Jabouri, who invited Petraeus and a group of Iraq generals into his home for pastries. The Iraqi government has balked at incorporating the 73,000 volunteers—most now being paid by the United States—into the Iraqi police, although U.S. pressure led Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to an agreement to admit some 20,000 to the police academy and provide temporary jobs or job training for others.

Whether the deal will be honored remains to be seen, but a few thousand volunteers are being trained and hiring orders were cut for an additional 5,200. Local residents say they want them to be the police—evidence of the remaining sectarian distrust. A woman in Dora said that she trusted the Iraqi Army but that the National Police, who are largely Shiite, were "not welcome here." Two other women nodded in agreement.

If matters were not complicated enough, Maliki's government may be falling apart. In late December, the two Kurdish parties and the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party presented him a long list of demands, essentially asking to be included in the insular prime minister's deliberations. The demands carry an implicit threat of a no-confidence vote in Parliament, which could bring down the government. Warns a senior Iraqi official, "We will wait a few weeks to see if he responds to our requests." Most American officials still back Maliki, in part since a government reshuffling could cost precious time as the U.S. public presses for troops to come home.