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US to pull more troops out of Iraq -

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US to pull more troops out of Iraq

The World Today - Friday, 23 May , 2008 12:24:00

Reporter: Michael Rowland

ELEANOR HALL: The United States has signalled that it will further reduce its troop numbers in Iraq
before the end of the year.

Already three of the five surge brigades have been withdrawn and the US Commander in Iraq, General
David Petraeus, says that improved security conditions mean that he expects to be able to recommend
further troop reductions by the end of the year.

But as Washington correspondent Michael Rowland reports, a full troop withdrawal is still not on
the cards.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: General David Petraeus returned to Washington for a Senate confirmation hearing on
his recent nomination as the overall US Commander in the Middle East.

And it wasn't long before he got a reminder of how deep emotions still are in the US about the
five-year-old war.

PROTESTER: Give the country back to the Iraqi people!

DAVID PETRAEUS: Thank you. Please leave the room now.

PROTESTER: No more killing. Stop the killing!

MICHAEL ROWLAND: The atmosphere may have been tense in the Senate committee room, but General
Petraeus insisted the situation in Iraq was gradually calming down.

DAVID PETRAEUS: I should note here that the number of security incidents in Iraq last week was the
lowest in over four years. And it appears that the week that ends tomorrow will see an even lower
number of incidents.

This has been achieved despite having now withdrawn three of the five brigade combat teams
scheduled to re-deploy without replacement by the end of July, and also with the reduction of the
two marine battalions and marine expeditionary unit.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: General Petraeus is so encouraged by the drop in violence that he has raised the
prospect of further troop reductions later in the year.

The Pentagon is now gradually withdrawing the extra US troops sent into Iraq as part of the
so-called military surge. This wind-down should be completed by July. At that point there'll be
just over 130,000 US troops in Iraq.

General Petraeus says he'll then spend about 45 days assessing the situation on the ground.

DAVID PETRAEUS: My sense is that I will be able to make a recommendation at that time for some
further reductions. I don't want to imply that that means the BCT (Brigade Combat Team) or major
combat formation, although it could.

But I do believe that there will be certain assets that - as we are already looking at the picture
right now - we'll be able to recommend can be either re-deployed or not deployed to the theatre.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: The top US commander wouldn't be drawn on just how many more American soldiers may
be coming home.

(Fanfare)

MICHAEL ROWLAND: As General Petraeus was testifying in Washington, his Commander in Chief was at
the Fort Bragg military base in North Carolina, welcoming home members of the elite 82nd Airborne.

President Bush told the paratroopers a full withdrawal from Iraq was still a long way off.

GEORGE W. BUSH: Withdrawal before success would send a signal to terrorists and extremists across
the world that America is weak and does not have the stomach for a long fight.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: There's still plenty of reason for caution in Iraq. General Petraeus has revealed
the US goal of transferring control of all 18 provinces to Iraqi security forces this year won't be
met.

And he says provincial elections, a critical step in Iraq's political reconciliation will be
delayed.

ELEANOR HALL: The ABC's Michael Rowland.