US could begin troop reduction in Iraq, Bush says

US President George W Bush made a surprise visit to Iraq yesterday for meetings with his commanders and senior Iraqi officials, raising the possibility that some U.S. soldiers could soon begin to withdraw from Iraq if security gains in recent months continued.

Bush's visit to Iraq - his third - was a dramatic move with a clear political goal: to set the tone for a series of upcoming hearings in Congress. The hearings are expected to be critical of the administration's strategy, but Bush tried to pre-empt opponents' pressure for a withdrawal by hailing what he called recent successes in Iraq and by contending that only making Iraq stable would allow U.S. forces to pull back.

Bush spoke during an eight-hour visit to the remote desert base in the restive Sunni province of Al-Anbar, where he had summoned Iraq's Shiite prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, and others to demonstrate that reconciliation among Iraq's warring sectarian factions was at least conceivable, if not yet a fact, reports San Jose Mercury News.

Bush secretly flew 11 hours to Iraq as a showdown nears with Congress over whether his decision in January to order 30000 more US troops to Iraq is working.

Defence Secretary Robert Gates arrived ahead of Bush, and convened a meeting with the country’s top political leaders to highlight the Bush administration’s hopes for prodding Iraq into a “bottom-up” approach to national reconciliation.

Gates conferred with senior US officials, including General David Petraeus and US ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, before opening a session with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, President Jalal Talabani and other top Iraqi officials from Baghdad, reports Dispatch Online.

Source: Agencies

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