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Two Army brigades on their way home are to return to Iraq

WASHINGTON—Pentagon officials have decided that two Germany-based brigades of the 1st Armored Division won't leave Iraq as scheduled and will be redeployed to Baghdad and Najaf, officials in Washington and Kuwait said Friday.

Some of the troops were already in Kuwait, awaiting flights to Germany. Others were headed to Kuwait when they were ordered to turn around.

No official announcement has been made of the redeployment, but division commander Maj. Gen. Martin Dempsey told the troops about it in a letter dated Thursday. An official announcement will come over the weekend, a senior Defense Department official said Friday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"We are being called to finish the fight against Madhi's Army south of Baghdad," Dempsey said in his letter. "I know you are eager to get home. I am too. But not if that means allowing one thug to replace another. We've worked too hard here to make that happen."

Word of the redeployment came as death totals indicated that the past week of fighting is likely to have been the bloodiest since U.S. forces entered Iraq more than a year ago.

At least 43 Americans—soldiers and Marines—have died since the uprising by Shiite militiamen began last Sunday, and at least 48 service members died during the first nine days of April, according to researchers with the independent Web site, which tracks coalition casualties.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, at a news conference earlier this week, had said it was possible that a number of troops could be ordered to stay longer. The 1st Armored Division is the first unit to have received such orders.

U.S. troops in Iraq currently number about 125,000, out of a coalition total of 145,000. Rumsfeld and top commanders had hoped to reduce that to about 105,000 by summer. Keeping the 1st Armored Division in Iraq another three months will add 20,000.

In Kuwait, the soldiers were told that the 1st Armored Division's 2nd Brigade would be ordered to Najaf and was expected to be there until October. Najaf is currently under the control of the Mahdi Army, a Shiite Muslim militia headed by radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

The division's 1st Brigade will be ordered to Baghdad until sometime in August, soldiers in Kuwait were told. Its 3rd Brigade no longer was at combat strength because so many of its members already had returned home to Fort Riley, Kan., so the rest of its soldiers will go home as planned, officers in Kuwait said.

The number of dead since April 1 makes the period the bloodiest nine-day stretch of the war. The worst day came on March 23 last year, during combat at Nasiriyah, when 30 troops died. The bloodiest month was last November, when 82 soldiers died.


(Lee Hill Kavanaugh of The Kansas City Star contributed to this story from Camp Arifjan, Kuwait.)


(c) 2004, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

GRAPHIC (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): USIRAQ-TROOPS


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