U.S. General Predicts Gradual Withdrawal
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U.S. General Predicts Gradual Withdrawal

NEDRA PICKLER / AP | June 12 2006

Encouraged by the death of a top terrorist leader and a new government in Iraq, President Bush was gathering his top military and civilian war advisers Monday to plan the U.S. role in the country's future.

The president planned two days of meetings at the mountainous Camp David presidential retreat, with national security advisers on hand and top commanders in Iraq connected by videoconference.

White House officials have said announcements of force reductions are not expected. Yet the top U.S. commander in Baghdad predicted on the eve of the meeting that coalition troops will gradually move out of the country in the coming months.

Gen. George Casey said he thinks it will be possible to withdraw some of the 130,000 U.S. forces in the months ahead as long as Iraq's government and security forces make progress.

Casey would not say whether he plans to advise Bush on a troop reduction plan Monday. But the general hinted the time soon may come for such a recommendation.

"I was waiting until we got a government seated before I gave the president another recommendation so we have some sense of what we've got," Casey said Sunday on CBS' "Face the Nation."

Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, took office last month and appointed the key final ministers last week.

Bush has said the new government marks a new chapter in the U.S. relationship with Iraq. With Republicans worried about losing control of Congress in November's midterm elections and most Americans saying they would like some troops to come home, Bush is under pressure. Only a third of respondents to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll in early June supported Bush's handling of the situation - an all-time low.

But he has been careful not to signal any troop reductions yet, continuing to say he will make those decisions when commanders in the field advise him to do so.

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