February 24, 2006

US troops poised for quick reaction to Iraq tumult

By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Iraqi forces are taking the lead
security role amid a spike in violence in Iraq but the U.S.
military has moved troops into the field for quick backup if
the situation worsens, a U.S. commander said on Friday.

Army Col. Jeffrey Snow said the U.S. military had moved
some troops from bases into the field to form a rapid-reaction
force, but they have not been called in yet to help Iraqi
security forces.

"What we've done is we have postured forces throughout the
battle space. In the event there were to be an incident that
they needed assistance, we would be able to respond in a quick
fashion," said Snow, who commands a 3,500-member brigade of the
10th Mountain Division in the Baghdad area.

About 200 people have been killed in the capital alone over
the past three days in sectarian violence triggered by
Wednesday's bombing of a Shi'ite shrine in Samarra. The
violence has heightened worries of an all-out civil war between
Iraq's Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims.

There are 136,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and 232,000
U.S.-trained Iraqi security forces, the Pentagon said.

In a teleconference from Iraq, Snow told reporters U.S.
forces are taking the same type of posture they assumed during
last year's three elections, when Iraqi security forces were in
the lead with the Americans as backup in case of major trouble.

"They are clearly in the lead," he said.

Snow said the possibility of an all-out civil war exists,
although he did not think it would occur.

"If that were to occur, obviously, that places the (U.S.)
soldiers between what would be the two parties involved. So
that would certainly place our soldiers at increased risk,"
Snow said.

Snow acknowledged that in a situation such as a large,
volatile demonstration of Iraqis, rapidly sending large numbers
of U.S. troops to the area "could incite an incident."

"And we're careful not to do that," he said.