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Report cites plan to begin reducing US forces in Iraq

NEW YORK -- The top US commander in Iraq has drafted a plan that projects steep reductions in the US military presence there by the end of 2007, The New York Times reported yesterday.

Citing US officials with knowledge of a classified Pentagon briefing this week by General George Casey, the Times said the first cuts would come in September, and the number of US combat brigades in Iraq is then projected to fall to five or six from the current level of 14 by the end of next year.

The withdrawals are greater than many specialists and analysts had expected, the Times said on its website. The officials spoke of the Pentagon briefing on condition of anonymity, and some described the plan as more of a forecast than a hard timeline.

According to the newspaper, the plan envisions the first reductions coming in September, ahead of November's US midterm elections, with two of the 14 combat brigades there being rotated out of Iraq without being replaced. Such brigades generally have about 3,500 troops each.

A 127,000-strong American force is serving in Iraq more than three years into a war in which about 2,500 US troops have died.

The number of bases in Iraq would also decline as US forces consolidated, the Times said. By the end of the year, the number of bases would shrink to 57 from the current 69, and by June 2007 there would be 30 bases. By the end of that year, there would be 11, with the United States having three principal regional military commands .

The withdrawals would depend on continued progress among Iraqi security forces and a drop in Sunni Arab hostility toward the new Iraqi government, and assume that the insurgency will not expand beyond Iraq's six central provinces, the Times said.

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