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Quietly, US strategy in Iraq shifting

A report on the 'surge' could help determine momentum.

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With little fanfare, at least so far, the stage is being set for a post-"surge" Iraq strategy that reduces US ambitions for the Iraq project, even while keeping some US forces there for years to come.

No decisions have yet been made, and administration officials insist the current strategy that has pumped an additional 30,000 troops into Iraq still must be given time to work. But the contours of a new approach floating around Washington suggest a drawing down of the 160,000 US forces there beginning as early as the end of this year. The thousands that remain would be refocused on training Iraqi security forces and on a long fight against Al Qaeda.

Just how much momentum the new Iraq-strategy snowball has behind it will start to become clearer this week as Congress is to receive an interim report on the performance of the force buildup and as Democrats try to use another funding vote on Iraq to press for faster change.

The new strategy is still in its formative stages in White House discussions, on Pentagon drawing boards, and on congressional desks. It is a source of division in the White House, although President Bush continues to warn against the dangers of any US withdrawal. But it is reflective of political realities in both the US and Iraq.

Time is running short for achieving political consensus in the US on Iraq policy before the 2008 campaign kicks off in earnest, political leaders and experts say. On the other hand, more time is needed to achieve political consensus in Iraq. That leaves an ironic situation where the political clocks of the two countries are not just running at different speeds, as has been said for months, but in different directions.

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