US general says Iraq could 'break' army

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The US Army's highest-ranking uniformed officer has warned that without more men and money, his active-duty force "will break" under the strains of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The warning by General Peter Schoomaker, the Army's Chief of Staff, came as Donald Rumsfeld spent his final day at the Pentagon yesterday. They have been taken as a plea to Robert Gates, the incoming Defence Secretary who will be sworn in on Monday, to strengthen the armed forces.

It is widely expected that the new Pentagon chief will replace key senior advisers, including Marine General Peter Pace, the joint chiefs chairman, and possibly General John Abizaid, who is in charge of US Central Command which oversees the Iraq war.

In his testimony to a congressional panel, General Schoomaker called for the forces to be expanded by 7,000 a year for the foreseeable future. At current levels, the Army was "incapable of generating and sustaining the required forces to wage the global war on terror", he said

Gen Schoomaker said the army had been "flat-footed" when it embarked on the Iraq war in 2003 with a force barely a third the size of the 500,000-strong army that drove Saddam Hussein from Kuwait in 1991.

In a separate development, nearly 1,000 members of the US military, have signed a petition calling for the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq. Their number is said to include dozens of officers, most of them on active service.