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US 'on track to end Iraq combat'

President Barack Obama is satisfied the US can safely end its combat role in Iraq on schedule at the end of the month, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said after the president was briefed by his national-security team and the top US commander in Iraq.

President Obama met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Defence Secretary Robert Gates, national security adviser James Jones and, by video conference, the US commander in Iraq, General Ray Odierno.

"The president heard directly from General Odierno who said that we were on target to complete our drawdown by the end of August. Already we have removed over 80,000 troops from Iraq since President Obama took office," Mr Gibbs said.

He said the general reported that the security situation has retained the significant improvements made over the last couple of years and that Iraqi security forces are fully prepared to take over.

President Obama has vowed both to end the official US combat mission on schedule and to move all remaining US troops off Iraqi soil by the end of 2011.

Asked whether any doubts were expressed at the meeting about the 2011 deadline, Mr Gibbs said: "Not that I'm aware of."

He suggested it might be "premature" to get into a discussion about the final withdrawal of US troops before Iraq is able to form a new government.

"What we hope and what was always envisioned is that the security gains would lead to political gains, and that's what we're hoping to see in the formation of a new government," he said.

Efforts to come up with a new government five months after the March 7 election have stalled.

Mr Gibbs said that the president also received an update from Vice President Joe Biden and Christopher Hill, the US ambassador to Iraq, "on our efforts to support Iraq's leaders as they form a new government and to transition to civilian lead within Iraq".


From Belfast Telegraph