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Gates says Obama Unlikely to Change Iraq Pullout Timetable

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the Obama administration is unlikely to change its timetable for withdrawing troops from Iraq.

Gates said Sunday that President Barack Obama has the power to modify the plan, but described the likelihood of significant changes as "fairly remote."

Mr. Obama said Friday that the U.S. will withdraw all combat forces from Iraq by August 2010, leaving in place a residual force of up to 50,000 troops. Under a U.S.-Iraqi agreement, all the forces must be withdrawn by the end of 2011.

Speaking to a U.S. television network, Gates said Mr. Obama's timetable was the product of a dialogue with U.S. military officers.

The top U.S. military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen, said Sunday that he strongly supports Mr. Obama's Iraq withdrawal decision. The joint chiefs of staff chairman told U.S. television networks that the president's discussions on the issue were very thorough and deliberate.

Iraqi officials say 211 civilians were killed by violence in February, up from January's total of 138, which was the lowest monthly toll since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Iraqi officials say attacks in February also killed 47 security personnel.

Violence in Iraq has fallen sharply in recent years. Most attacks now are concentrated in the Iraqi provinces of Diyala and Nineveh, where al-Qaida and other insurgents remain active.

In the latest violence, Iraqi officials say a suicide bomber killed one person Sunday at the home of a U.S.-backed militia leader near Fallujah in western Iraq's Anbar province.

The U.S. military says 11 U.S. soldiers were killed by hostile fire in Iraq in February, while five others died in the region in non-combat incidents. The total death toll of 16 U.S. troops was the same as in January.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.