A timetable for withdrawal? How about "a few decades"?

The Iraqi government may be making plans for life after U.S. forces leave, but the Pentagon isn't planning to go anywhere.

Published May 22, 2007 1:57PM (EDT)

Although congressional Democrats appear to be a long way away from reaching agreement on a second Iraq war funding bill -- and George W. Bush is a long way away from signing one if it contains any kind of timeline for bringing U.S. troops home -- the Iraqi government is apparently making contingency plans to deal with an abrupt withdrawal of U.S. troops.

"The army plans on the basis of a worst-case scenario so as not to allow any security vacuum," Iraqi Defense Minister Abdul-Qader al-Obeidi told reporters Monday. "There are meetings with political leaders on how we can deal with a sudden pullout."

Has the U.S. military started making withdrawal plans of its own? Not exactly. Gen. Peter Pace told the Senate recently that the Pentagon has "published no orders directing the planning for the overall withdrawal of forces." To the contrary, NPR reports, Defense Department officials have been discussing a number of long-term options for Iraq -- including one in which the United States keeps 30,000 or 40,000 American troops in the country for "maybe a few decades."

Update: In the meantime, an analysis of deployment orders has Hearst Newspapers warning that the Bush administration may be planning what amounts to a "second surge" that would put more than 200,000 U.S. troops in Iraq by Christmas. The Pentagon says Hearst has it wrong -- that the big numbers the paper's reporters have seen reflect the temporary increases that occur when a new brigade arrives in the country while the one it's replacing is in the process of leaving.

By Tim Grieve

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

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