The Pentagon announced on Monday that it was delaying indefinitely the deployment of an armored brigade to Iraq, in a sign that senior commanders in Iraq may shortly announce cuts in overall troop levels.
Pentagon officials said the decision to hold back a brigade of the 1st Infantry Division, based in Schweinfurt, Germany, was made because the top commanders in the war zone are still considering whether to recommend troop cuts, and it didn't make sense to keep to the deployment schedule when such decisions were looming.
"This is a narrow decision for this unit not to begin its deployment as scheduled," said Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman.
A Pentagon official said that with Iraq's prime minister-designate, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, forming a Cabinet, General George Casey Jr, the top commander in Iraq, could decide that the conditions are right for troop cuts.
"We're having pretty good traction on the political front, and he's saying, `Before I send that unit, let me make sure I really want to send them at this time,"' said the senior official, who was granted anonymity to allow him to describe the thinking about decisions on future troop movements.
The change does not reduce the approximately 133,000 US troops in Iraq, and officials said the unit involved could still go if Casey decides he needs a heavy armored brigade.
Meanwhile, South Korea yesterday began bringing troops home from Iraq under a plan to scale back its presence there by a third, military officials said.
Seoul plans to withdraw about 1,000 of its 3,200-member contingent stationed in northern Iraq by the end of this year.
The first reduction of soldiers yesterday came as part of a troop rotation, officials in Seoul said.