Pentagon delays sending 3,500 troops to Iraq


WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon announced yesterday that it has delayed sending 3,500 troops from Germany to Iraq as military commanders in Baghdad assess whether security conditions have improved enough to allow more cuts in forces.

The Pentagon said troops of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, based in Schweinfurt, Germany, were scheduled to begin deploying to Iraq this month but that a decision about whether to send them had been delayed.

Officials said the announcement didn't mean that the brigade's deployment had been canceled or that an overall reduction in U.S. forces in Iraq would soon follow.

"This is a very narrow decision to hold one brigade from deploying and to give the commanders on the ground additional time to continue their assessments," said Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman.

About 133,000 American troops are stationed in Iraq. Defense officials have suggested that if the political and security situation improves, the number could be significantly reduced by year's end.

"There's still a marker to get down to 100,000 by Christmas," said a Pentagon official who asked not to be identified because speaking publicly on rotation plans and other operational matters is not authorized.

The official said decisions regarding the size of the U.S. force in Iraq probably will be made at the end of the month and again in August. Deployments of troops and equipment have to be scheduled months in advance to keep the rotation schedule running smoothly.

After the Iraqi parliament picked Nouri al-Maliki as its prime minister-designate recently, President Bush suggested that U.S. forces might begin withdrawing soon.

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