Update as of 0900 Eastern Time:
Bottom Line Up Front:
1. US and Iraq close to an agreement on Troop strength and general withdrawal timeline.
2. Issues have developed in Iraq with the Sunni Citizen Patrols.
3. Good analysis of the Georgian Russian Conflict by the NY Times.
4. Russia claims they are withdrawing.
5. ISAF Combat Forces destroy 30 Taliban and their commander.
From Fox News:
BAGHDAD — Iraq and the U.S. pushed close to a deal Thursday setting a course for American combat troops to pull out of major Iraqi cities by next June, with a broader withdrawal from the long and costly war by 2011.
Subject to final approval by the top Iraqi leadership, the exit date for U.S. troops would be December 2011, although the Americans insist on linking that target to additional security and political progress.
President Bush has long resisted a timetable for pulling out, even under heavy pressure from a nation distressed by American deaths and discouraged by the length of the war that began in 2003. But that has softened in recent weeks.
The timing has major political importance in both Iraq and the United States.
The two contenders to replace Bush as commander in chief, Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama, spar almost daily over the future course of the war.
Obama wants all U.S. combat forces out of Iraq within 16 months of his taking office, saying they are needed more urgently in Afghanistan. McCain says recent security improvements in Iraq show that decisions on the timing of further pullouts should be determined by circumstances on the ground rather than by prearranged timetables — a position the White House has vigorously held until recently.
The administration has inched toward the Iraqi view that setting at least a target date for withdrawal would make it politically palatable for Iraq's government to accept a substantial U.S. troop presence beyond this year.
The rationale for the pullout is that Iraqi security forces will be ready to stand on their own, although it remains possible that some U.S. military training role would continue. In Iraq, provincial elections are supposed to be held later this year, followed by national balloting in 2009.
In one key part of the draft agreement, private U.S. contractors would be subject to Iraqi law, unlike at present, but the American side held firm in its insistence that U.S. troops would remain subject exclusively to U.S. legal jurisdiction, officials said.
From The NY Times:
The Shiite-dominated government in Iraq is driving out many leaders of Sunni citizen patrols, the groups of former insurgents who joined the American payroll and have been a major pillar in the decline in violence around the nation.
In restive Diyala Province, United States and Iraqi military officials say there were orders to arrest hundreds of members of what is known as the Awakening movement as part of large security operations by the Iraqi military. At least five senior members have been arrested there in recent weeks, leaders of the groups say.
West of Baghdad, former insurgent leaders contend that the Iraqi military is going after 650 Awakening members, many of whom have fled the once-violent area they had kept safe. While the crackdown appears to be focused on a relatively small number of leaders whom the Iraqi government considers the most dangerous, there are influential voices to dismantle the American backed movement entirely.
“The state cannot accept the Awakening,” said Sheik Jalaladeen al-Sagheer, a leading Shiite member of Parliament. “Their days are numbered.”
The government’s rising hostility toward the Awakening Councils amounts to a bet that its military, feeling increasingly strong, can provide security in former guerrilla strongholds without the support of these former Sunni fighters who once waged devastating attacks on United States and Iraqi targets. It also is occurring as Awakening members are eager to translate their influence and organization on the ground into political power.
But it is causing a rift with the American military, which contends that any significant diminution of the Awakening could result in renewed violence, jeopardizing the substantial security gains in the past year. United States commanders say that the practice, however unconventional, of paying the guerrillas has saved the lives of hundreds of American soldiers.
From the NY Times:
The president of Syria spent two days this week in Russia with a shopping list of sophisticated weapons he wanted to buy. The visit may prove a worrisome preview of things to come.
If Russia’s invasion of Georgia ushers in a sustained period of renewed animosity with the West, Washington fears that a newly emboldened but estranged Moscow could use its influence, money, energy resources, United Nations Security Council veto and, yes, its arms industry to undermine American interests around the world.
Although Russia has long supplied arms to Syria, it has held back until now on providing the next generation of surface-to-surface missiles. But the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, made clear that he was hoping to capitalize on rising tensions between Moscow and the West when he rushed to the resort city of Sochi to meet with his Russian counterpart, Dmitri A. Medvedev.
The list of ways a more hostile Russia could cause problems for the United States extends far beyond Syria and the mountains of Georgia. In addition to escalated arms sales to other anti-American states like Iran and Venezuela, policy makers and specialists in Washington envision a freeze on counterterrorism and nuclear nonproliferation cooperation, manipulation of oil and natural gas supplies, pressure against United States military bases in Central Asia and the collapse of efforts to extend cold war-era arms control treaties.
“It’s Iran, it’s the U.N., it’s all the counterterrorism and counternarcotics programs, Syria, Venezuela, Hamas — there are any number of issues over which they can be less cooperative than they’ve been,” said Angela E. Stent, who served as the top Russia officer at the United States government’s National Intelligence Council until 2006 and now directs Russian studies at Georgetown University. “And of course, energy.”
Michael McFaul, a Stanford University professor and the chief Russia adviser for Senator Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, said Russia appeared intent on trying to “disrupt the international order” and had the capacity to succeed. “The potential is big because at the end of the day, they are the hegemon in that region and we are not and that’s a fact,” Professor McFaul said.
Russia may yet hold back from some of the more disruptive options depending on how both sides play these next few weeks and months. Many in Washington hope Russia will restrain itself out of its own self-interest; Moscow, for instance, does not want Iran to have nuclear weapons, nor does it want the Taliban to regain power in Afghanistan. Dmitri Rogozin, a hard-liner who serves as Russia’s ambassador to NATO, told the newspaper Izvestia this week that Moscow still wanted to support the alliance in Afghanistan. “NATO’s defeat in Afghanistan would not be good for us,” he said.
Moscow may also be checked by the desire of its economic elite to remain on the path to integration with the rest of the world. The main Russian stock index fell sharply in recent days, costing investors $10 billion — many with close ties to the circle of Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin.
Russian troops are in the final phase of their withdrawal from Georgian territory, which should be completed by late Friday, a Russian military spokesman says.
"Russian troops are in full compliance with international agreements," Col. Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn told reporters at his daily briefing Friday.
He confirmed that Russia's military had suspended cooperation with NATO because of the rift over its actions in Georgia.
"Yes, we refrain from the exercises, but it is only a response," Nogovitsyn said. "It is not the Russian side that provoked it."
He also questioned why ships from NATO nations had sailed into the Black Sea in recent days. He said German and Spanish ships were now there.
Nogovitsyn accused the Georgian government of violating the cease-fire deal, including two special operations he said were conducted into the breakaway province of South Ossetia on Monday.
The agents from Georgia's interior ministry used physical force to question two Ossetians about Russian forces, he said.
The commander of Russia's land forces, Gen. Vladimir Boldyrev, told Russia's Interfax news agency on Thursday that his troops would be back on Russian soil in 10 days. Boldyrev said that Russian peacekeeping troops would be stationed at posts troops had been constructing since the invasion, some of them inside Georgian territory. Russia argues that it is allowed to expand its security zone under a 1992 agreement.
Russia's incursion into the former Soviet republic followed the launch of a Georgian campaign against the Russian-backed separatist territory of South Ossetia on August 7. Russian tanks, troops and armored vehicles poured into South Ossetia and another breakaway Georgian territory, Abkhazia, the following day, advancing into Georgia across the administrative borders with those regions.
U.S.-led coalition troops killed 30 militants, including a commander, in a battle in western Afghanistan early Friday, according to a coalition spokesman.
The coalition troops were on their way to detain a Taliban commander when they were ambushed by insurgents along a road in the Shindad district of Herat province, the military spokesman said.
In addition to the 30 militants killed, five were taken prisoner, according to the spokesman.
A cache of weapons and roadside bomb-making materials were also seized, he said.
In eastern Afghanistan, a soldier in the U.S.-led coalition was killed in a roadside bombing, the U.S. military said in a statement.
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