U.S. troop decision in Iraq late summer: official
( Reuter )- The top U.S. commander in Iraq will likely take four to six weeks after a reduction in U.S. troop levels ends in mid-July before deciding if more can go home, a senior administration official said on Friday.
Gen. David Petraeus is expected to testify with Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad, before Congress April 8-9 on their assessment of conditions in Iraq.
But Petraeus is unlikely to recommend changes to the number of U.S. troops in Iraq at that time, and opt to wait until late summer to make any further decisions.
The U.S. military is in the process of withdrawing five of 20 combat brigades, or about 20,000 troops, which would return the number of troops in Iraq to about 140,000.
That figure is still higher than the 132,000 in Iraq before President George W. Bush ordered a surge last year to curb violence in Baghdad and the western province of Anbar.
Many variables must be taken into account when Petraeus makes his recommendation on the number of troops needed in Iraq, including provincial elections due in the autumn, conflict with al Qaeda, and whether Iran supports Shi'ite groups in Iraq, the official told reporters on condition of anonymity.
"He's got to try to see his way through all that fog and make a forecast," the official said.
"What he has argued for is what's being called a pause, but essentially a reassessment period. He doesn't at this point see any interruption in the current flow from 20 to 15 brigades, which is the path we're on now," the administration official said.
"I think you can think of a period of weeks, four to six weeks, something like that. Not months, he's not thinking of 90 days here to reassess, he doesn't need that much time," he said.
The official predicted more to come before the end of the year. "I think before the end of '08 you're going to see additional drawdowns," he said.
Bush will consult Petraeus; Crocker; Adm. William Fallon, the commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the two weeks before the Iraq congressional testimony to get different military perspectives, the official said.