Gen. David Petraeus recommended cutting US troops by about 30,000 by next July, ending a so-called surge of forces but not fundamentally changing strategy in the unpopular war. "The Iraqi government welcomes this report," national security adviser Mowaffaq al-Rubaie told a news conference.
"We expect in the near future that our need will be diminished for the multinational forces to conduct direct combat operations." Rubaie did not comment directly on Petraeus' recommendation to cut US troop levels by 30,000. In testimony to Congress in Washington on Monday, Petraeus suggested US forces could fall to about 130,000 without hurting modest security improvements. That would return US troop strength to roughly the same level it was before an increase ordered by President George W. Bush early this year.
"Force reductions would continue after next summer," Petraeus said, and it would be premature to make recommendations now on the pace of such cuts. "Such an assessment could be made by March 2008," he said.
Some Iraqis welcomed the idea of a US troop reduction, calling for a total withdrawal. "They are the reason behind all the things that have happened to us," said Raad Sabir, a retired teacher from the northern oil-producing city of Kirkuk. But others worried that their own security forces were not ready to take over and that a reduction in US troops would be an invitation for Shiite militias, Sunni Arab insurgents and al-Qaeda fighters to resume attacks once they were gone.
"Rubaie said all Iraqi army units would be trained and equipped by mid-2008. More than 80 percent of Iraq's army had the capability to take the lead in combat operations," he said.
"We have 500,000 soldiers and policemen, who have been given the best military training," Rubaie said.
American forces kill 9 suspects in Sadr City area
US forces killed nine suspects in a raid early Tuesday on the Baghdad stronghold of a powerful Shiite militia, the military said. Iraqi police and witnesses said only three people were killed, all civilians.
Iraqi officials said eight others were injured in the pre-dawn operation in Sadr City -- home to 2.5 million of Baghdad's poorest residents as well the Mahdi Army, a militia loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. Last month, al-Sadr called a temporary halt to the group's activities after deadly Shiite-on-Shiite violence in Karbala. A resident who described himself as a tribal leader, Hussein Mohammed Mishan, said one of those killed was a teenage boy who was shot dead by American troops when he opened his front door to see what was going on outside. A neighbor who gave only his nickname, Abu Ali, said: "What did this young man do to deserve this? His mother was shouting for help at 4 a.m., but we were helpless because American soldiers were all around. Anyone who comes out will be shot."
At least two children were among the wounded, an Iraqi officer said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information. The US raid was conducted to "detain criminals involved in murder, kidnapping, IED and mortar attacks and weapons smuggling," the military said in a statement. Nine "armed terrorists" were killed and eight others were captured, it said.
The Iraqi officer put the number of suspects arrested at ten, and said eight civilian cars were damaged as well. Several sheep and cattle were also killed in a yard fire ignited by gunfire, he added. Baghdad AP