Bush eases back on Iraq troop withdrawals as Palin son heads out

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President Bush is ordering the pull-out of 8,000 more combat troops from Iraq, signalling a slower pace of withdrawal than previously expected.

What may be one of his final deployment decisions as Commander in Chief, came as the US military was bracing for an explosion of media interest in Track Palin, the Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin's 19-year-old son who is due to deploy to Iraq and reports for duty in Alaska on Thursday.

With three children of the top four presidential and vice presidential candidates preparing to deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan in coming weeks, the US military has a "Prince Harry" dilemma of its own.

President Bush indicated that the pace of withdrawal will be slower than previously anticipated, reflecting the concerns of military commanders that the security gains they have made will be jeopardised by a more rapid pullout.

There are some 146,000 combat troops in Iraq at present and by the time the 8,000 troops leave in February, there will be another president in the Oval office.

The president said at the National Defence University in Washington: "Here is the bottom line: While the enemy in Iraq is still dangerous, we have seized the offensive, and Iraqi forces are becomingly increasingly capable of leading and winning the fight."

After fading from the headlines, Iraq is about to become front page news again, now that Track Palin is off to the front.

John McCain, and Joe Biden both have sons in the military, but they rarely discuss their children's military service on the campaign trail. The mould-breaking republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin has no such compunction, however.

She has repeatedly pointed to her son's membership in Alaska's National Guard when making the case for John McCain to be the next president.

"John McCain refused to break faith with the troops who have now brought victory within sight," she said at a rally in Lee's Summit, Missouri yesterday.

"I'll tell ya, as a mother of one of those troops, that is exactly the kind of man I want as commander-in-chief."

Because of the US transition to an all-volunteer force the high command has not had to worry about the sons and daughters of presidents and vice presidents on the front lines in recent decades. In addition few sitting commanders in chief have had military age sons.

With ABC "World News" cameras in tow for the first of several back-to-back interviews, Mrs Palin is flying back to Alaska to see her son off from the 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team at Fort Wainwright.

It's the sixth anniversary of the 11 September attacks and a year to the day since Private Track Palin enlisted in the US Army. After flying to Kuwait for training he will be deployed in a few weeks time, performing security duties guarding his commanders, in Diyala province.

He's just like any other infantry soldier here," said Army Col. Burt Thompson, in Alaska. "He tries to remain as anonymous as he possibly can."

Ever since the British government pulled Prince Harry from Afghanistan when news leaked that he was deployed there, the US military has been adamant that the children of politicians are treated no differently when they sign up for the military.

Mrs Palin has made things trickier for the military by broadcasting the fact that her son is heading for Iraq. He was in the audience, in a dress suit for her speech at the Republican national convention where she mentioned it again.

Adding to the Pentagon's problems, both Jimmy McCain and Track Palin are both in the infantry and thus more likely to face danger. But the deployment of Joe Biden's son Beau should help the Democrats as they push back at the perception that they are less patriotic than Republicans because they oppose the war in Iraq.

"Republicans always seem to imply that Democrats are somehow unpatriotic or want to be easy on the terrorists," said James Pfiffner, a professor at George Mason University. "But I think that Biden's son demonstrates that you can disagree with a policy and still support doing your duty."

Beau Biden, who is Delaware's attorney general, is a captain in the Delaware National Guard and will work as a military lawyer in Iraq. John McCain's son Jimmy, a Marine, has already completed a tour of duty in Iraq. Another son, Jack, is soon to graduate from the US Naval Academy.