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Iraqi Withdrawal Timetable Under Debate

A recent public opinion poll by ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper indicates that 51 percent of Americans surveyed oppose setting a deadline for a U.S. troop withdrawal from Iraq. That represents a nine-point drop from 60 percent last year. As VOA's Peter Fedynsky reports, an Iraqi withdrawal timetable is under debate in Washington.

Following a meeting with pro-military organizations Monday at the White House, President Bush defined victory in Iraq as the establishment of a free government that is able to sustain and defend itself and also be an ally in the war on terror. He said the U.S. commander in Iraq, General George Casey, and other senior military officials will make the decisions about strength levels.

"In terms of our troop presence there, that decision will be made by General Casey as well as the sovereign government of Iraq, based upon conditions on the ground, the president said. "One of the things that General Casey assured me of was that whatever recommendation he makes, it'll be aimed toward achieving victory, and that's what we want."

General Casey's plan is to reduce the number of U.S. troops in Iraq by 7,000 - from 127,000 to 120,000 in September.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says those levels could fluctuate.

"What we've always said is there would be a gradual reduction over time as the Iraqi security forces assumed a larger and larger role," General Casey said,

"And I would add something else: that it will very likely not be a steady path down; it could very likely be a drawdown with an increase," said Rumsfeld.

Some members of the Democratic Party say General Casey's plan is similar to their proposal, which was rejected in a largely partisan vote in Congress last week. Democratic Senator Russ Feingold argued on NBC's Meet the Press that a timetable is the best way to let the Iraqi and American people know what to expect.

"That is the way to have confidence in the process in Iraq and get us refocused on the broader fight against terrorists and those places in the world where we're losing ground,” he said. “We're losing ground in Afghanistan. We don't have enough resources in the Indonesia and Malaysia area in this regard. We have lost ground in Somalia. The fact is that Iraq is draining our strength. I think General Casey knows that."

The general, however, says he does not like the idea of setting specific withdrawal dates.

"I feel it would limit my flexibility,” he said. “I think it would give the enemy a fixed timetable, and I think it would send a terrible signal to a new government of national unity in Iraq that's trying to stand up and get its legs underneath it."

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has urged his parliament to establish a timeline for the Iraqi military and police to take control of security throughout the country. He made the call Sunday as part of his national reconciliation plan, which includes amnesty for insurgents who help rebuild Iraq if they didn’t take part in criminal and terrorist activities. The prime minister made no mention of a timetable for withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.