Possible troop extension cause for concern

Freedom New Mexico

It might be nothing significant. Of necessity the military is always making contingency plans, often to deal with circumstances nobody seriously expects but for which the military wants to be prepared if the unlikely happens. Most of those plans stay on the shelf.

Nonetheless, the announcement by Army Gen. Ray Odierno, our top military commander in Iraq, that he had briefed officials in Washington on contingency plans to keep some combat troops in Iraq past the end of August, when current plans call for all combat troops to leave the country, suggests that he wants it known that staying longer is a possibility. Gen. Odierno did not offer details and said the plans might be implemented only “if we run into problems.”

The thing is, problems of various sorts are virtually inevitable following parliamentary elections scheduled March 7. Violence spiked Monday when attacks from various insurgent groups — authorities say they couldn’t see a clear pattern — killed 23 Iraqis, including nine children.

Marina Ottaway, who is monitoring Iraqi news sources for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (which is posting analyses of the election at www.carnegieendowment.org), said she wouldn’t be surprised to see more violence in the next two weeks — and beyond. “It is likely to take several months to form a new government,” she told us, “and political instability often breeds violence.”

We think it would be a mistake to keep combat troops in Iraq beyond August. But our leaders might think differently when crunch time comes.