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US may pull out troops from Iraqi capital within 10 months


Baghdad : US commander in Iraq General David Petraeus said Thursday he would call for the pullout of US troops from Baghdad within 10 months because of declining violence in the Iraqi capital.

Petraeus told reporters in Baghdad that he recommended the withdrawal of troops from Baghdad in a report to be submitted to Congress in two weeks, citing “increasing capabilities of Iraqi forces to conduct security operations without the help of US troops in most of Iraqi areas,” the Voices of Iraq (VOI) news agency reported.

Petraeus’ comments came as the Iraqi government and the US seek to finalize a long-term security pact that will govern the presence of US forces in the country after a UN mandate expires at the end of the year.

Media reports said in August that the US and Iraq have agreed that US combat troops would leave entirely before the end of 2011. Asked whether it was feasible that US combat forces could leave Baghdad by July 2009, Petraeus said: “Conditions permitting”.

“The number of attacks in Baghdad lately has been … I think it’s probably less than five (a day) on average, and that’s a city of seven million people,” he added.

The US military handed over on Monday Iraq’s Anbar province to Iraqi forces. Anbar was the 11th of Iraq’s 18 provinces to be returned to Iraqi control since the 2003 US-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein.

Petraeus has also praised the decision of Iraqi radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to halt his Mahdi Army militia’s armed operations last month.

Anti-US cleric al-Sadr had announced a cultural programme would be set to increase awareness for the Mahdi Army, which was once described by the Pentagon as the greatest threat to the country’s security.

Later Thursday, the US military announced the death of two US soldiers after an explosive devices targeted their patrol east of Baghdad.

Three US soldiers have been killed so far since the beginning of September, bringing to 4,154 the number who have died since the US-led invasion, according to the VOI.