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Daily Column
US Papers Thu: A Glimpse of the Embassy
Combat Brigade Is Cut Six Weeks Early in Iraq
By DANIEL W. SMITH 11/06/2008 02:00 AM ET
The Embassy finally opens... unofficially... for one event. Also, U.S. servicemen drawing down and not having as much time as other Americans for election mania.

From Baghdad
In the New York Times, Suadad al-Salhy and Katherine Zoepf report on the first event held in the new American embassy in Baghdad, where ambassador, Ryan C. Crocker, welcomed about 250 Iraqi officials, diplomats and dignitaries for a preliminary glimpse on Wednesday morning in what was described as a party to celebrate the 2008 American presidential election. “I’m delighted you could join us for the first event we could have in our new embassy,” Mr. Crocker said in a brief address.
But he also sounded a note of caution to Iraqi officials who might have been hoping for rapid changes in American leadership at a time when Iraq’s government is entangled in negotiating the details of the security pact that sets the conditions for a continued United States military presence in Iraq. “Our president today is George Bush, and he will be our president for the next two and a half months,” Mr. Crocker told guests gathered at the four-story atrium of the main embassy building, which is in the heavily guarded part of the capital known as the Green Zone.
“The size of this embassy and the number of employees who will occupy it are a sign of the American government’s commitment to democracy in Iraq,” said Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq’s foreign minister. He did not remember the details of the original lease agreement for the land, he said, “but it was a very long lease.”
A few feet behind Mr. Zebari, a waiter served green-tinted fruit punch out of a silver fountain. A cake the size of a cafeteria table, with a State Department seal drawn in shiny black icing, anchored one end of the room. Scenes of President-elect Barack Obama’s victory speech were projected on a wall and, on a buffet, an eagle had been carved meticulously into the side of an upended watermelon.
The Post’s Ernesto Londoño reports on members of the Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment, patrolling in Baghdad's Dora neighborhood, as the U.S. elections play themselves out. Work goes on as usual, from checking in with local shopkeepers, to searching garbage for IEDs. Information on the current situations in Iraq and Afghanistan are peppered throughout, but the real strength of the piece are the quotes Londoño took the time to get.

The soldiers communicate well, and are obviously a population that has a reason to be looking closely at the election results. Here is a sample of what some of them said.

"I don't have time for it. I don't worry about it. All I have time for is what happens in this country now."

"A lot of the guys are still young and have a long time left in the Army. This election is going to define what they're going to do in the next few years."

"The Republicans are going to get me killed," he said wryly. "But they're going to pay me well until they do."

"If we were to pack up and leave tomorrow, this country would go back to what it was, four thousand-some KIA" -- killed in action. "That would be 4,000-some KIA in vain. Everyone who has worked hand in hand with Americans would end up dead."

And, as one of them joked, when the results of the election came through, "We're all going home! What time does the plane leave?"

Ann Scott Tyson of the Washington Post writes that Gen. David H. Petraeus has decided to reduce the number of U.S. combat brigades in Iraq from 15 to 14 about six weeks earlier than planned , as a result of dramatically lower violence there. "The hope is they can come home before Christmas," Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said of the decision.

In October, there were less than 1,000 “security incidents” reported by the U.S. military. That, coupled with the steadily growing threat in Afghanistan has switched the focus of Central Command from the Persian Gulf to Central Asia.

The 101st Airborne Division brigade in Iraq is made up of 3,500 to 4,000 troops that, once withdrawn, will not be replaced. The brigade from the 10th Mountain Division that was scheduled to go to Iraq in its place will instead deploy to Afghanistan, as announced earlier this fall. "The hope is they can come home before Christmas," said Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell.
Petraeus and Odierno oversaw the "surge" of five combat brigades into Iraq last year, bringing the total to 20. That number was lowered to 15 as of July, after major improvements in security. Petraeus then called for a pause in withdrawals to assess the impact of lower troop levels.

In September, Petraeus recommended that those reductions continue, calling for an additional 8,000 combat and support troops to leave Iraq by January, and President Bush approved that plan.
Christian Science Monitor, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, no Iraq coverage.

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