LONDON (Reuters) - U.S. combat troops could be pulled out of Baghdad within 10 months because of declining violence in the Iraqi capital, General David Petraeus, U.S. commander in Iraq, said in an interview published on Thursday.
Petraeus’s comments to the Financial Times newspaper came as the United States and Iraq seek to finalize a security pact that will govern the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq after a United Nations mandate expires at the end of the year.
There are about 145,000 U.S. troops in Iraq and Petraeus was referring in his interview to the roughly 16,000 stationed in Baghdad, the paper said.
Asked whether it was feasible that U.S. combat forces could leave Baghdad by July, Petraeus said: “Conditions permitting, yeah.
“The number of attacks in Baghdad lately has been ... I think it’s probably less than five (a day) on average, and that’s a city of seven million people,” he added.
The U.S. military handed over on Monday Iraq’s Anbar province to Iraqi forces less than two years after it almost lost the western region to a Sunni Arab insurgency.
Anbar was the 11th of Iraq’s 18 provinces to be returned to Iraqi control since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein.
Iraqi leaders have said the United States and Iraq have agreed on a 2011 date for U.S. troops to leave the country, but U.S. officials said negotiations were continuing. Washington has been reluctant to embrace fixed timetables for withdrawal.
The terms of the future U.S. troop presence in Iraq are under close scrutiny as the United States prepares for a presidential election in November.
Democratic contender Barack Obama is pushing for a 16-month timeframe for withdrawal, while Republican John McCain has argued against a set timeline for removing troops.
Writing by Charles Dick; Editing by David Fogarty