body#layout #main-top { display:none; } -->

Friday, 1 February 2008

US mulls slowing Iraq troop drawdown to protect gains

The US command in Iraq appears leaning toward freezing further troop reductions this summer as security gains in the country remain fragile, despite the deep unpopularity of the five-year-old war.

President George W. Bush has given his tacit backing to the possible slowdown, after top Iraq commander General David Petraeus suggested it was now his thinking in an interview Sunday.

Speaking Thursday in Las Vegas, Bush noted that roughly 20,000 of the recent peak of 160,000 US troops in Iraq were expected to come home by July.

But, Bush added, "we have come too far in this important theater in this war on terror not to make sure that we succeed.

"And therefore any further troop reductions will be based upon commanders and conditions."

Petraeus could pitch for a midyear stall to the drawdown when he presents his recommendations to Bush in April, as he studies whether the surge's gains in increasing security could be left at risk by a smaller force.

"We are working out right now what the possibilities are," Petraeus, the architect of the surge effort, said Sunday on CNN.

"We will need to have some time to let things settle a bit, if you will," he said.