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General to urge troop reduction in 'safe' areas

By Leonard Doyle in Washington

Determined to show the controversial "surge" policy is working and head off pressure from Congress for a large-scale troop withdrawal from Iraq, the US commander, General David Petraeus, is expected to recommend that combat troops be pulled out of several areas where he believes security has improved.

The withdrawals could occur very soon, even as fresh US forces continue to arrive in Iraq. The number of combat troops reached nearly 162,000 in August, an increase of about 30,000 from the beginning of the year when the surge began.

Gen Petraeus is preparing a long-awaited status report on the war for Congress which is due to be delivered this September. Yesterday's leaks suggesting that he would recommend a partial pullout from al-Anbar province, where the US says security has increased, Nineveh province in the north, and the Kurdish capital, Mosul, seem designed to disarm opponents of the war, who will not want to be accused of undermining a successful military strategy.

A senior Bush administration official told the Los Angeles Times: "That is the form of the recommendation we are anticipating him to come back with... If the Marines are having so much success in al-Anbar, maybe we redeploy them to some other hotspot."

But Gen Petraeus is not expected to call for an overall reduction in troops, fearing a resurgence in violence.

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