US plans 'deadlines' to accelerate withdrawal

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The Independent US

The Bush administration, slowly acknowledging that the situation in Iraq is untenable, is drawing up a detailed new plan to hand over ever-greater responsibility to the government in Baghdad and pave the way for an eventual US withdrawal.

The plan, reported yesterday in American newspapers, would establish a series of deadlines by which Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his government would be expected to make progress on disarming sectarian militias, improving security and establishing clear political and economic progress.

President Bush, who has rejected calls for an early withdrawal of US forces, hashed out the new plan on Saturday with top political and military advisers. It is likely to be finalised before the end of the year.

This is not the first time a timeline has been proposed, but Mr Bush is paying a political price for the crisis and is anxious to offer some sign of progress before next month's mid-term elections. A US diplomat this weekend told Al-Jazeera in an interview that his country had shown "arrogance" and "stupidity" in Iraq.

Mr Bush may also want to pre-empt the findings of former secretary of state James Baker's Iraq Study Group, which is due to report back in a few months.

In the UK, cabinet pressure is also mounting on Tony Blair to admit that the occupation of Iraq has failed and order a phased withdrawal of British troops. Des Browne, Defence Secretary, became the latest minister publicly to express a belief that British troops could begin withdrawing from Iraq in less than 12 months.

He said Britain was "quite far down" the road toward transferring security in Iraq to national security forces.

Another minister privately accused Mr Blair of being out of touch with reality on Iraq: "The Americans are desperate. They have finally woken up to the fact that it is not a brilliant success ... Tony Blair has been deluding himself it would all come right with the Iraqi elections."