A top U.S. military official says American troops could begin withdrawing from Iraq next year depending on conditions on the ground.
General George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, told the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday that developments over the next months will be crucial in making any decision on a pull-out.
Iraq is scheduled to hold a referendum on a new constitution October 15th, with elections to follow in December. General Casey said he believes insurgents will try to derail the political transition, but will fail. Several senators expressed concern after General Casey said the number of Iraqi army battalions Washington he believes can operate without U.S. help has dropped from three battalions to one. He did not explain why. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and two other generals testified as well. The House Armed Service Committee also held a hearing on Iraq.