Previously rejected as telling the enemy how long they would have to hold out, a withdrawal schedule is now seen as a way of forcing the Iraqi government to accept more responsibility ... and of removing what the head of the British Army identified as one of the causes of the violence: the presence of a foreign army.
"We're exacerbating it in the sense that because we are there, we provide a target and we are attacked, ergo, if we were not there, we would be attacked and the situation would be calmer," Gen. Richard Dannatt said.
The Iraq Study Group, headed by former Secretary of State James Baker, a Republican, and former 9-11 Commissioner Lee Hamilton, a Democrat, is developing an option for what one source called "managed withdrawal." For example, this source said, troop levels would be reduced five percent every two months, forcing the Iraqis to step in and take up the slack. That would be one way of dealing with what U.S. officials see as a lack of initiative by the Iraqi government.
"I still have real questions in my mind as to the capacity, the will, of the Iraqi government to move," Hamilton says.
The Pentagon study is being conducted by Lt. Gen. John Sattler, a Marine who commanded the 2004 assault on Fallujah. Sattler is developing what one source called "a forcing mechanism" that would set target dates for the turnover of areas now controlled by American forces to Iraqi forces.
Setting a date and sticking to it worked for the Iraqi elections, this source said, suggesting the same model could apply to troop levels.
None of these options has been approved yet, but the subject of setting a withdrawal schedule is now on the table, Martin says.