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Surprise!

News is that US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice flew into Bagdhad today for a surprise visit.

Rice has recently been on a tour of the Middle East and her meetings with Iraqi government officials will likely involve discussions about the civil violence that is tearing the country apart.

The Reuters report of Rice's visit (linked above) notes that, "Washington has made the training of Iraqi security forces the focus of hopes to start withdrawing 140,000 U.S. troops."

Meanwhile, an adjoining article on the FT.com front page carries the headline, "US forces in Iraq to exceed 140,000". Published not two weeks ago, the opening paragraph of the article stressed the announcement by US officials that "American troop levels in Iraq were likely to remain well above 140,000 for the next few months". What is going on here?

Further down the page we read that, as recently as August, some members of the Senate armed services committe were surprised to hear that Iraq could be heading towards civil war. They must have been fooled by the use of the preferred term, "sectarian violence"!

In August, General Abizaid, the most senior Arab-American in uniform who has a reputation for being a straight talker, surprised many when he told the Senate armed services committee that Iraq could be heading towards civil war. This contradicted the Bush administration’s view that the situation was gradually improving. As many as 20,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed in 2006 – although estimates vary drastically.

Is anyone bothered by these figures or is that all they are: numbers?

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