Drawdown from Iraq on schedule, U.S. says

March 4, 2010 at 2:14 PM
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WASHINGTON, March 4 (UPI) -- Pre-election violence in Iraq will not derail U.S. military plans to start pulling combat forces out of the country this year, Pentagon officials said.

The security situation in Iraq is tense ahead of Sunday's parliamentary vote. More than 30 people were killed in a triple suicide bombing Wednesday in Baquba and several members of the Iraqi security force were killed Thursday during early voting.

Geoff Morrell, a spokesman for the U.S. Defense Department, said U.S. military plans in Iraq were on schedule despite the violence.

"Neither this attack nor any of the previous attempts to derail the electoral process and to destabilize the government have been or will be successful, nor do we anticipate that it will derail our responsible drawdown of forces in Iraq," said Morrell.

The U.S. military has around 96,000 soldiers in Iraq who will stay on duty in the weeks after March 7 elections. Once the post-election situation is stabilized, Washington will move to bring the troop level to 50,000 by Sept. 1.

Iraqis head to the polls Sunday for the third time since U.S.-led forces overthrew Saddam Hussein in 2003.

The Pentagon announced plans in February to change the name of the mission in Iraq from Operation Iraqi Freedom to Operation New Dawn to reflect a shifting strategy for the U.S. military.

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