WASHINGTON, DC—Almost a year after the cessation of major combat and a month after the nation's first free democratic elections, President Bush unveiled the coalition forces' strategy for exiting Iraq.
"I'm pleased to announce that the Department of Defense and I have formulated a plan for a speedy withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq," Bush announced Monday morning. "We'll just go through Iran."
Bush said the U.S. Army, which deposed Iran's longtime enemy Saddam Hussein, should be welcomed with open arms by the Islamic-fundamentalist state.
"And Iran's so nearby," Bush said. "It's only a hop, skip, and a jump to the east."
According to White House officials, coalition air units will leave forward air bases in Iraq and transport munitions to undisclosed locations in Iran. After 72 to 96 hours of aerial-bomb retreats, armored-cavalry units will retreat across the Zagros mountains in tanks, armored personnel carriers, and strike helicopters. The balance of the 120,000 troops will exit into the oil-rich borderlands around the Shatt-al-Arab region within 30 days.
Pentagon sources said U.S. Central Command has been formulating the exit plan under guidelines set by Bush.
"The fact is, we've accomplished our goals in Iraq," said General George Casey, the commander of coalition forces in the Iraqi theater. "Now, it's time to bring our men and women home—via Iran."
Questions have been raised about the unprecedented size of the withdrawal budget.
"I'm asking Congress to approve a $187-billion budget to enable us to exit as smoothly as possible," said Casey, whose budget request includes several hundred additional M1A1 Abrams battle tanks, 72 new C-130 cargo planes, and two brigades of artillery. "We're concerned about the safety of our troops, so we need to have the capacity to deal with insurgent forces all the way from the Iraqi border through to Tehran."
Casey has requested a budget increase for the Pentagon, so that the government can reward recruits who serve in the U.S. mission to exit Iraq.
"The plan also includes a minor stopover for refueling and provisional replenishment in Syria," Casey said. "But I don't expect we'll need more than 50,000 additional troops for that stretch of the Iraq pullout."
Bush's plan has met with widespread support.
"The people who said Iraq was a quagmire and that the president would never get our troops out are now eating crow," said Sean Hannity on his popular radio show Tuesday. "Of course, I don't expect anyone will have the honor to come forward and actually admit that they were wrong to question our commander-in-chief."
Sioux Falls, SD's Dianne Haverbuck, who has two sons in the military, said she was pleased to hear of the impending exit.
"Don and Kenneth have already been in Iraq an extra four months, so it's so good to hear that they'll finally be leaving that dangerous place," Haverbuck said. "I can't tell you how happy I was when the president said—what was it? I wrote it down. 'Getting our troops out of the Middle East and back home to their families is a viable long-term goal.'"
"I can't wait to see the boys," Haverbuck added.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Hoseini-Khamenei welcomed the exit plan.
"Let the Allied armies come to Iran," Khamenei said. "I believe I can assure you that, if they do withdraw here, their brothers-in-arms in the Islamic Republican Army, the Revolutionary Guards Corps, the Quds special forces units, and the Basij Popular Mobilization Army will no doubt do everything they can to make the troops' trip back home memorable."