Pentagon will call up thousands more troops to go to Iraq

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The Independent US

The Pentagon has begun issuing call-up notices for thousands more active-duty troops and reservists to go to Iraq from early next year.

General Peter Pace, deputy chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, gave no precise figures during testimony to a House of Representatives committee yesterday. But the indications are that up to 30,000 men could be involved, including active-duty marine and army units based in the US and in Germany, as well as newly mobilised National Guard and reserve troops.

The notices were issued amid increasing violence in Iraq, where US forces are coming under attack up to 25 times a day, and mounting criticism of President Bush's handling of the occupation. On Sunday, the US suffered its worst postwar loss when 15 servicemen died when their Chinook helicopter was shot down west of Baghdad.

John McCain, an influential Republican senator and a supporter of the war, attacked the Pentagon in a speech in Washington. The administration "had no strategy for Iraq other than to preserve the illusion that we have enough troops", he said.

His comments came as the New York Democrat Charles Rangel became the first congressman publicly to demand the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld, the Defence Secretary.

General Pace said the troops were part of a 2004 rotation plan under which total American forces in Iraq could fall from 132,000 to just over 100,000 by May. But the US garrison was expected to be no more than 50,000 by now.

Without the latest call up, overall troop strength would have dropped to 60,000 by the second quarter, clearly inadequate given the security threat.

US allies have failed to provide forces for the third international division of up to 15,000 men that the Pentagon was hoping for. Turkey, which agreed last month to send troops, now says it will only do so with an invitation from the provisional Iraqi Governing Council, which opposes such a move.