US won't alter Iraq drawdown
Washington, February 23, 2010
The United States would only slow down its troop withdrawal from Iraq if there were a serious deterioration in security conditions, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said.
'Before we would consider recommending anything like that we would have to see a pretty considerable deterioration of the situation in Iraq and we don't see that certainly at this point,' Gates told reporters at the Pentagon.
The March 7 parliamentary ballot is seen as a critical test for Iraq, which is trying to move beyond years of sectarian carnage between Shi'ites and Sunnis and revamp its war-battered economy and oil sector.
A reduction in violence over the past year has raised hopes of a smooth transition as US forces draw down in Iraq ahead of a complete withdrawal by the end of 2011.
The top US military commander in Iraq, General Ray Odierno, told reporters earlier on Monday that he still expected to reduce US troop levels in Iraq to 50,000 by the end of August, from about the current 96,000.
But Odierno also signaled he could slow the pace of this year's withdrawal if the situation deteriorated following March elections -- a scenario he did not expect to see.
'I could do that ... I would have to seek approval to do that, but yes,' Odierno said, when asked whether he might keep troops above the 50,000 level past August.
Asked whether there was anything that neighbours like Iran could do to influence the timetable for withdrawal, Odierno said: 'I don't think it's so much about Iranian interference that would delay our withdrawal, but it's about the overall situation in Iraq.'
'And if Iran and any other country would cause some significant change in the conditions in Iraq, we certainly would have to consider our timeline,' he said. - Reuters