A soldier clearing a minefield in Iraq. President Obama is expected to announce a plan to withdraw most troops from Iraq by August of 2010. (Photo: army.mil)
Washington - U.S. President Barack Obama is likely to decide to withdraw U.S. combat troops from Iraq over a period of about 19 months with a formal announcement expected by the end of the week, officials said Tuesday.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the subject, said Obama has not yet made a formal decision on withdrawal options.
But they said he was likely to favour a timetable of around 19 months to get combat troops out of Iraq.
While some U.S. troops would remain for other missions, the withdrawal of combat forces would be a major milestone in a conflict closely associated with the Bush administration. The war became increasingly unpopular among Americans and it also faced deep opposition in many countries abroad. There are currently about 142,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.
During his presidential election campaign, Obama advocated a timetable of 16 months for withdrawing combat forces from Iraq. But he also pledged to listen to advice from military commanders.
Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and Gen. David Petraeus, the head of U.S. Central Command, had both favoured a 23-month timeline, according to one official.
But military officials also presented Obama with a compromise 19-month option and that now appears the most likely policy, another official said.
"That's the way the wind's blowing," the official said.
But the official said meetings on Iraq policy were still continuing and several officials cautioned that no policy was final until Obama signed off on it.
"The president has not made any final decision on Iraq policy," one administration official said.
An announcement could come Thursday, officials said.
If Obama says U.S. combat forces should be out of Iraq within 19 months of his inauguration on Jan. 20, 2009, that would give them a deadline of late August 2010.
However, Obama has also said that a residual force - expected to consist of at least tens of thousands of troops - would remain to assist Iraqi troops, conduct counterterrorism missions and protect U.S. diplomatic personnel.
Under a security pact agreed between the United States and Iraq last year, all U.S. forces must leave the country by the end of 2011.