Fallujah, Iraq Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's rationale for starting to shrink the U.S. military force in Iraq - even the setting of his announcement, in this former insurgent stronghold - suggests U.S. officials foresee more cuts in coming months.
Those reductions, along with plans to shift some American troops to support roles like training Iraqi security forces, raise the possibility that U.S. losses might decline as well.
Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, told reporters after Rumsfeld announced the troops cuts Friday that he hopes to recommend more reductions as early as the spring - assuming progress such as formation of an Iraqi government.
But he added, "I don't have a goal for the end of 2006."
Casey said that with Rumsfeld's announced canceling of the deployment to Iraq of two Army brigades - one from the 1st Infantry Division in Kansas and the other from the 1st Armored Division now in Kuwait - the total number of U.S. troops in Iraq will drop by about 7,000, to about 130,000 by March. This year's base level has been about 138,000.
"In this kind of war that we're fighting, more is not necessarily better," Casey said. "In fact, in Iraq, less coalition at this point in time is better. Less is better because it doesn't feed the notion of occupation" or further deepen the Iraqis' dependence on American firepower.
Congressional Democrats praised the announcement and urged President Bush to go even further. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said she hoped the reduction "will quickly be followed by others that will result in all U.S. combat forces being redeployed from Iraq next year."