Thu, Sep 13, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Iraq expects big drop in foreign forces

AGENCIES , BAGHDAD

Foreign troop levels in Iraq could drop to less than 100,000 by the end of next year if Iraq's own forces were ready and security threats had diminished, Iraq's national security adviser said yesterday.

That would bring US troop numbers down to around 130,000, roughly the level before an increase ordered by US President George W. Bush early this year.

"Maybe it is not far from the truth if we said that by the end of next year, multinational forces could be less than 100,000," Iraqi National Security Adviser Muwaffaq al-Rubaie told reporters.

"This all depends on the security circumstances and the level of the threat, whether from inside the country or in the region. This also depends on the level of training of the Iraqi forces," he said.

He did not talk specifically about US troop numbers -- currently at 168,000 -- but the overwhelming majority of foreign soldiers in Iraq are from the US.

Rubaie offered no objections to troop reductions proposed by General David Petraeus, head of the multinational force in Iraq, but did not explicitly endorse the plan. He stressed that much depended on how security trends developed.

Both the Iraqi and US governments have highlighted the fall in violence under Bush's so-called surge of troops.

On Tuesday, Rubaie said all Iraqi army units would be trained and equipped by the middle of next year. More than 80 percent of Iraq's army had the capability to take the lead in combat operations, he said, putting total Iraqi security forces at 500,000.

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