U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the Obama administration is
unlikely to change its timetable for withdrawing troops from Iraq.
Gates said Sunday that President Barack Obama has the power to modify
the plan, but described the likelihood of significant changes as
Mr. Obama said Friday that the U.S. will withdraw all combat forces
from Iraq by August 2010, leaving in place a residual force of up to
50,000 troops. Under a U.S.-Iraqi agreement, all the forces must be
withdrawn by the end of 2011.
Speaking to a U.S. television network (NBC), Gates said Mr. Obama's timetable was the product of a dialogue with U.S. military officers.
The top U.S. military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen, said Sunday that he
strongly supports Mr. Obama's Iraq withdrawal decision. The joint
chiefs of staff chairman told U.S. television networks that the
president's discussions on the issue were very thorough and deliberate.
Iraqi officials say 211 civilians were killed by violence in February,
up from January's total of 138, which was the lowest monthly toll since
the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. Iraqi officials say attacks in February
also killed 47 security personnel.
Violence in Iraq has fallen sharply in recent years. Most attacks now
are concentrated in the Iraqi provinces of Diyala and Nineveh, where
al-Qaida and other insurgents remain active.
In the latest violence, Iraqi officials say a suicide bomber killed one
person Sunday at the home of a U.S.-backed militia leader near Fallujah
in western Iraq's Anbar province.
The U.S. military says 11 U.S. soldiers were killed by hostile fire in
Iraq in February, while five others died in the region in non-combat
incidents. The total death toll of 16 U.S. troops was the same as in