Iraqi leaders and US military commanders anticipate that American troops could start withdrawing this year, two Democratic US senators who favor such a move said on Saturday after a visit to Iraq.
"The commanders on the ground, and Iraq's political leaders, suggest that it is appropriate to begin a redeploymentof American forces as early as some time this year," said Sen Jack Reed of Rhode Island.
"I asked the prime minister (Nuri al-Maliki) directly, whether it would be feasible and desirable, and he in so many words said yes, that it is something that they anticipate," Reed said.
Reed and Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware spoke to reporters in a telephone conference call after returning from Iraq where they met Maliki, other Iraqi officials and top US Military brass in the country -- including top commander Gen. George Casey and ground forces commander Lieutenant General Peter W Chiarelli.
Reed, a former Army officer who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said Casey told them he sees a possible reduction of an unspecified number of troops starting this year.
Last month, the White House confirmed a report in the New York Times that Casey had drafted a plan for withdrawing American troops, but administration officials said the proposal was just one option.
Reed was co-sponsor of a recent Democratic resolution in the Senate that would have urged President George W. Bush to begin U.S. Troop withdrawals from Iraq this year. It was defeated by the Republican-run Senate last month. Biden supported the measure.
Bush says that the around 127,000 U.S. Troops in Iraq will not step down until Iraqi forces are able to take over security for their country. A violent insurgency persists in Iraq more than three years after the U.S.-led invasion.
"Got to let go"
But Reed said that among the US Military and the leaders of Iraq's government there was a growing recognition that an indefinite stay by US Forces would produce as many problems as benefits.
Biden said that "one of our military guys said, 'Look, it's like we have our hand on the seat of the bicycle, and as long as they know we are holding the seat of the two wheeler, they are never really going to take control. We've got to let go'."
Biden is the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Reed said another issue to consider was "the wear and tear on the American forces" in the war. Many of the soldiers the senators saw were on their second, third or fourth deployment to the region, he said.
The senators said they did not discuss with Chiarelli his investigation into the killings of 24 Iraqi civilians in Haditha last November, but that Chiarelli showed them some of the thousands of pages of material he had combed through to prepare his report.
Iraqi officials accuse Marines of shooting dead people in Haditha, including women and children in their homes, after a Marine was killed in a roadside bomb attack.
"He wanted to make it clear that he and his staff are taking it incredibly seriously," Biden said.