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Pentagon debating three options for future in Iraq

WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon's review of how to improve the situation in Iraq has outlined three basic options: Send in more troops, shrink the force but stay longer, or pull out, according to senior military officials.

Insiders have dubbed the options "Go Big," "Go Long," and "Go Home." The group conducting the review is likely to recommend a combination of a small, short-term increase in US troops and a long-term commitment to stepped-up training and advising of Iraqi forces, the officials said.

The military's study was commissioned by General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It was conducted at a time when violence is causing Iraq policy to be reconsidered by both the White House and the congressionally chartered, bipartisan Iraq Study Group. Pace's effort will feed into the White House review, but military officials are operating independently.

"Go Big," the first option, originally contemplated a large increase in US troops in Iraq to try to break the cycle of sectarian and insurgent violence.

A classic counterinsurgency campaign, though, would require several hundred thousand additional US and Iraqi soldiers as well as heavily armed Iraqi police.

That option has been all but rejected by the study group, which concluded that there are not enough troops in the US military and not enough effective Iraqi forces, said sources who have been briefed on the review. The sources insisted on anonymity because no one has been permitted to discuss the review with outsiders.

"Go Home," another option, calls for a swift withdrawal of US troops. It was rejected by the Pentagon group as likely to push Iraq directly into a full-blown civil war.

The group has devised a hybrid plan that combines part of the first option with the second one, called "Go Long." It calls for cutting the US combat presence in favor of a long-term expansion of training and advisory efforts. Under this mixture of options, which is gaining favor inside the military, the US presence in Iraq, currently of about 140,000 troops, would be boosted by 20,000 to 30,000 for a short period, the officials said.

The purpose of the increase, they said, would be twofold: to do as much as possible to curtail sectarian violence, and to signal to the Iraqi government and public that the shift to a "Go Long" option that aims eventually to cut the US presence is not a disguised form of withdrawal.

Even so, there is concern that such a radical shift in the US posture in Iraq could further damage the standing of its government. Under the hybrid plan, the short increase in US troop levels would be followed by a long-term plan to radically cut the presence, perhaps to 60,000 troops.

That combination plan could backfire if Iraqis suspect it is really a way for the United States to "moonwalk" out of Iraq -- that is, appearing to move forward while actually sliding backward, a Pentagon official said.

This official said the short-term boost could be achieved through three steps: extending the tours of duty of some units in Iraq, sending other units there earlier than planned, and activating some Army Reserve units.

The group said such a step might be necessary because it is concerned that the violence is undercutting the Iraqi government's credibility. "Folks increasingly realize that if violence can't be contained, the spiral downward will continue," the official said.

Also, it would take months to prepare and implement the expansion of the program to train and advise Iraqi forces, the official noted. The military will have to find additional advisers, prepare them for the deployment, get infrastructure in place to house and feed them, order and ship equipment for them to use, and recruit additional Iraqis for them to train.

A potential obstacle to the "Go Long" option is that it runs counter to the impulse of many congressional Democrats to find a way to get out of Iraq quickly.

The hybrid version of "Go Long" might be close to the recommendation that the Iraq Study Group, led by a former secretary of state, James A. Baker III, and former representative Lee H. Hamilton, Democrat of Indiana.

That group's findings, expected to be issued next month, are said to focus on changing the emphasis of US operations from combating the insurgency to training Iraqis.

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