Iraq troop withdrawals on track, US defence chief says
( dpa ) - US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said Thursday the military remains on course to withdraw by this summer the 30,000 soldiers sent to Iraq last year.
Gates said, however, any final decision will be made based on a March report by the top US commander in Iraq, General David E Petraeus.
"All the evidence available to me now suggests that we will be able to complete the drawdown ... by the end of the July," Gates said.
Petraeus first suggested the troops surge that expanded the US presence in Iraq to 160,000 in a major report to Congress in September as political pressure mounted on Bush to begin troops withdrawals.
Bush's buildup has produced a sharp drop in attacks and sectarian clashes in Iraq, bringing violence to the lowest level in years.
Gates said he also remained optimistic that an additional 30,000 troops can be pulled from Iraq by the end of 2008, depending on security conditions on the ground.
"That remains my hope that the pace of the drawdowns in the second half of the year can be what it was in the first half of the year," he said. dpa mm aw