The Defense Department says the coalition commander in Iraq is expected to issue an assessment of the security situation in the country soon after this week's election, and the assessment could include a recommendation on future U.S. troop levels in Iraq.
The chief department spokesman, Lawrence DiRita, says the Iraq commander, General George Casey, will likely send a report to Washington that could form the basis for troop-level recommendations that will go to President Bush.
"I would expect that General Casey will come back with his own assessment in [a] reasonable timeframe to the secretary, and the secretary would then make various recommendations to the president. But it is not based against any dates," said Mr. DiRita.
Mr. DiRita declined to establish a firm timetable even for the general's assessment, much less any troop level recommendations or their implementation, but he did say this.
"I would say sooner rather than later, and I think it is very possible it would be this year," he added.
Mr. DiRita also said General Casey could make an assessment that does not include any recommendation for a change in the baseline force of 138,000, and that if he does make a recommendation it could be either for an increase or a decrease in U.S. forces in Iraq.
The baseline number has been augmented by more than 20,000 additional troops to help provide security for the election, and for October's constitutional referendum. Mr. DiRita says those extra troops have long been scheduled to leave Iraq within several weeks after the election, and he expects that to happen as planned.
The assessment he believes General Casey will make by the end of this month, would cover the period beyond that.
"I think it is likely he'll give some kind of an assessment on where we stand post-election, and what his thinking is," he explained. "I cannot say that it will include a recommendation. I just do not know that."
There have been growing calls by some members of Congress and others for a timetable for the removal of U.S. troops from Iraq, while others have called for an increase in the troop level to try to defeat the insurgency.
President Bush and other officials say General Casey will get whatever force he needs.
But officials have expressed concern about an increase in U.S. troops, saying it could generate concern among ordinary Iraqis and inspire more insurgent attacks.
Officials also say a timetable for withdrawal would help the insurgents. They say any troop reductions will be based on conditions in Iraq, including the strength of the insurgency, the development of Iraq's new security forces and the establishment of a stable political system after Thursday's election.
But Mr. DiRita indicated that top officials will be taking a hard look at what changes in troop levels are possible, as soon as possible after the election.