Gates eyes accelerated drawdown in Iraq

July 29, 2009 at 4:19 PM
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BAGHDAD, July 29 (UPI) -- The security situation in Iraq has improved to the point where Washington may expedite the drawdown of U.S. military forces, the U.S. defense secretary said.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates wrapped up a tour of Iraq on Wednesday, meeting with top U.S. military commanders and Iraqi officials to discuss the security situation in Iraq following a U.S. troop deadline.

U.S. combat forces pulled back to their military bases in Iraq on June 30 under the terms of a bilateral security agreement with Baghdad.

Iraq witnessed a spate of violence in the period surrounding the June 30 deadline. A blast in Mosul killed one person on Wednesday while an Iraqi policeman was killed in Anbar province.

Despite the onset of violence, Gates said overall conditions in Iraq have improved to the point that Washington may consider accelerating its military drawdown.

"I think there is at least a chance of a modest acceleration," said Gates.

Those plans may include the redeployment of one U.S. combat brigade before Iraq holds national elections in January. One third of the troops may be able to return home under a modified timeline without being replaced, the U.S. Defense Department says.

Gates cautioned, however, that any accelerated drawdown would depend on the situation on the ground, which he said would be determined by U.S. Army Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of Multinational Force-Iraq.

"I don't want to put the general of the spot, because it really depends on circumstances that may or may not happen," the defense secretary said.

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