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BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The U.S. military in Iraq will scrap a policy early next year that has led to the punishment of some soldiers serving in Iraq for becoming pregnant, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq said on Thursday.
General Ray Odierno said the new, Iraq-wide guidelines would take effect beginning January 1, lifting rules enacted by the U.S. commander in northern Iraq, who reports to Odierno, that laid out possible punishments for pregnancy among his soldiers.
The policy had been criticized by some women's advocates and on Tuesday four U.S. senators wrote to the secretary of the U.S. Army asking that it be rescinded.
"That will not be in my orders from January 1," Odierno told Reuters on the sidelines of a seminar in Baghdad, responding to a question about whether possible punishment for soldiers who become pregnant or impregnate other soldiers would be part of new, Iraq-wide guidelines Odierno plans to issue shortly.
According to U.S. policy now, individual commanders can issue rules on behavior for troops under their command that are more strict than those issued by their military superiors.
Major General Tony Cucolo, in charge of 22,000 U.S. troops in northern Iraq, has defended his policy, saying that he could not afford to lose soldiers to pregnancy while the U.S. military draws down its soldiers from Iraq.
Troop levels are set to fall to about 50,000 by the end of August next year, and a full withdrawal is due by 2012.
Possible punishments for becoming pregnant, or getting another soldier pregnant, ranged from an administrative reprimand to court martial, although Cucolo later made clear he did not intend to court martial any soldier who became pregnant.
His policy had been in effect since November 4. Four of his soldiers had been found to be pregnant since then. Three male soldiers involved were also reprimanded, one more seriously because he had committed adultery.
Reporting by Mohammed Abbas: Editing by Missy Ryan and Jon Hemming