The "good news story" that wasn't

What a draw-down of British forces really means for U.S. troops in Iraq.

Published March 1, 2007 2:02PM (EST)

The Bush administration has tried hard to portray Tony Blair's plan to pull some British troops out of Iraq as a sign of progress there. National Security Advsior Stephen Hadley has gone so far as to call it "basically a good news story."

It turns out that's not how U.S. war planners see it. According to a report from the Guardian's Simon Tisdall, advisors to Gen. David Petraeus don't think he's got enough troops in Iraq to begin with -- even assuming all Iraqi brigades are reliable, even after George W. Bush's escalation and even with British troops helping in southern Iraq. Without the Brits? "Increased violence in the south is now expected, caused in part by the 'displacement' of Shia militias forced out of Baghdad by the U.S. crackdown," Tisdall writes. "According to a British source, plans are in hand for the possible southwards deployment of 6,000 US troops to compensate for Britain's phased withdrawal and any concomitant upsurge in unrest."

So what's the big picture? A former senior administration official familiar with the deliberations of Petraeus' advisors tells Tisdall: "They know they are operating under a clock. They know they are going to hear a lot more talk in Washington about 'Plan B' by the autumn -- meaning withdrawal. They know the next six-month period is their opportunity. And they say it's getting harder every day."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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