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Bush: Security Progress in Iraq May Enable US Force Reduction

U.S. President George Bush says enough progress is being made in Iraq to enable the Pentagon to consider further reductions in force levels and cut troop tours. VOA White House Correspondent Paula Wolfson reports.

President Bush says July has been a month of encouraging news in Iraq.

"Violence is down to its lowest levels since the spring of 2004 and we are now in our third consecutive month with reduced violence levels holding steady," the president said.

The president says the top Americans in Iraq - General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker - acknowledge these advances could be reversed. But he says they report a degree of durability in the gains of recent months.

He says there has been enough progress to prompt the Pentagon to cut troop tours.

"Beginning tomorrow, troops deploying to Iraq will serve 12-month tours instead of 15-month tours," Mr. Bush said. "This will ease the burden on our forces, and it will make life easier for our wonderful military families."

Mr. Bush says it is another sign that the strategy of sending extra troops to Iraq last year has paid off. There are now about 147,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. Combat units are at pre-surge levels, though the elevated number of support troops remains.

"The last of these surge brigades came home this month," he said. "And later this year, General Petraeus will present me his recommendations of future troop levels, including further reductions in our combat forces as conditions permit."

In an update to the American people, Mr. Bush made specific mention of improvements in the Iraqi security forces. He said Iraqi troops have increased their capacity to handle the nation's security needs.

"Iraqi forces now have 192 combat battalions in the fight, and more than 110 of these battalions are taking the lead in combat operations against terrorists and extremists," President Bush said.

Mr. Bush spoke on the original target date for completion of an agreement governing the long-term U.S. presence in Iraq.

White House officials have been warning for days that the July 31 target would most likely not be met, although there are reports a deal may be near. The president said the negotiations will go on.

"We are also making progress in our discussions with Prime Minister Maliki's government on a strategic framework agreement," the president noted. "This agreement will serve as the foundation for America's presence in Iraq once the United Nations resolution authorizing the multi-national forces there expires on December 31."

Congress is wrapping up its session for the year, and the two main political parties in the United States are gearing up for their national conventions. Iraq is one of the biggest issues in the campaign to choose a new president, and should remain so until the election on November 4.