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US may move a brigade to Kuwait

Official says plan part of possible buildup in Iraq

WASHINGTON -- The US military is planning to move a brigade into Kuwait in what could be the first step in a short-term surge of American forces into Iraq to stabilize the violence.

The Second Brigade of the 82d Airborne Division is expected in Kuwait shortly after the new year, a senior Defense Department official said yesterday. The official requested anonymity because the plans had not yet been announced.

The brigade, of roughly 3,500 troops, is based at Fort Bragg, N.C., and would be deployed in Iraq early next year if needed, the official said. The move would be part of an effort to boost the number of US troops for a short time, the official said. The plan was first reported by CBS News.

The White House has asked military planners and budget analysts to provide President Bush with options for increasing US forces in Iraq by 20,000 or more, The New York Times reported in today's editions, citing senior administration officials.

In Baghdad yesterday, the US military said three more US troops died in fighting this week, raising to 54 the number of Americans killed in Iraq in December -- nearly half of them in Anbar Province.

The month is shaping up to be one of the deadliest for Americans since the war started, especially for those trying to tame the Sunni-led insurgency in this volatile province west of Baghdad.

At least 25 of the US troops killed this month -- most of them Marines -- died in the vast stretch of desert that extends from the capital to the borders with Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. Three US aircraft also went down in a span of two weeks.

The number of casualties reflects the strength of Sunni insurgents, including Al Qaeda in Iraq, even as the violence in Baghdad shifts to a fight between Sunni and Shi'ite extremists.

It also is occurring despite a decision by some US commanders in the area to pull troops out of combat missions and partner them with Iraqi Army units as advisers and mentors.

Two Marines died Thursday in Anbar Province, the military said. In Ninevah Province, to the northwest, a service member assigned to the Fourth Brigade Combat Team, First Cavalry Division was killed Tuesday, the military said.

In a video conference with Bush yesterday, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki of Iraq outlined plans for the national reconciliation conference taking place in Baghdad today. Maliki said many Iraqis want a larger core of Iraqi political leaders to come together to help stabilize the country and promote the rule of law.

In a separate interview, Maliki issued his first public comment on a bipartisan US report that said US policies in Iraq were failing and urged drastic changes. "It contained contradictions in vision and recommendations," he told the satellite station Al-Arabiya.

He said the report contained "good elements" regarding the political process and Iraq's unity, but it also included "insults and negative directions" in regard to the Iraq conflict. He did not elaborate.

At least 34 people were killed or found dead across Iraq yesterday, including 22 bullet-riddled bodies discovered in several areas of the capital, apparent victims of death squads.

Two suicide car bombs exploded yesterday at US checkpoints in the Anbar capital of Ramadi, and US troops opened fire to foil one of the attacks, police said. Four Iraqi civilians died. The US military said it had no reports of suicide bombings in Ramadi.

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