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Iraq confident Obama won't withdraw troops too quickly

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - The Iraqi government is confident that president-elect Barack Obama will not jeopardize Iraq’s improving security by hastily withdrawing U.S. troops, Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said on Wednesday.

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Obama has “reassured us that he would not take any drastic or dramatic decisions,” Zebari told BBC television.

“He will consult with the Iraqi government and the U.S. military in the field, but believes strongly that a phased withdrawal of U.S. forces in Iraq will put more responsibility on the shoulders of the Iraqi government.”

Obama opposed the U.S. war in Iraq from the beginning, and his promise to pull combat troops out of the country by mid-2010 was a cornerstone of his campaign.

The administration of President George W. Bush had long resisted deadlines for withdrawal, but is now working on a security pact that would set 2011 as an end date for the U.S. troop presence, a concession that moved U.S. policy closer to Obama’s proposals.

“We are negotiating right now with the U.S. for a timeline of 2011 for U.S. forces to withdraw from the country ... Our position has become much closer to what Senator Obama during his election campaign called for,” Zebari said.

Washington and Baghdad are still negotiating how firm the deadline will be. The plan also envisions halting U.S. patrols of Iraqi streets by mid-2009.

Violence has dropped dramatically across Iraq, but U.S. generals and Iraqi leaders say Iraqi forces are not yet ready to assume full control and a hasty pullout could jeopardize gains.

In another interview Zebari said he believed Obama would take conditions on the ground into account before any withdrawal.

“When there is a reality check, I think any U.S. president has to look very hard at the facts on the ground,” he told Al-Jazeera television. “The gains that we have attained and won with hard struggle and a great deal of sacrifice need to be sustained.”