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Officials: Obama says Iraq pullout by Aug 2010

US President Barack Obama told lawmakers yesterday he plans to withdraw most American troops from Iraq by August 2010 but leave tens of thousands behind to advise Iraqi forces and protect US interests, congressional officials said.

Obama is expected to announce the new strategy today during a trip to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

In a closed-door meeting with Republican and Democratic leaders, Obama and his top advisers estimated that 35,000 to 50,000 troops would remain.

Rep. John McHugh, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, said Obama promised him to reconsider the new strategy if violence rises. McHugh said he was worried the situation in Iraq remained fragile, especially as it approaches elections in December.

"Our commanders must have the flexibility they need in order to respond to these challenges, and President Obama assured me that there is a 'Plan B,'" McHugh said in a statement.

Some Democrats, too, are skeptical, but because they say it would leave too many troops behind.

"I have been one for a long time that's called for significant cutbacks in Iraq, and I am happy to listen to the secretary of defense and the president," Sen. Harry Reid, the Senate's leader, told reporters before the briefing. "But when they talk about 50,000, that's a little higher number than I had anticipated."

Rep. Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat who leads the House of Representatives, had said Wednesday that she was eager to hear the president's justification for keeping 50,000 troops in Iraq.

"I do think that there's a need for some," Pelosi said this week in an interview on MSNBC. "I don't know that all of them have to be in country."

The top Republican in the House, Rep. John Boehner, said that getting troops out 19 months after Obama took office in January - "may have sounded good during the campaign." But Obama should "listen to those commanders and our diplomats who are there to understand how fragile the situation is," he said.

An existing US-Iraq agreement, negotiated under President George W. Bush, calls for US combat troops to withdraw from Baghdad and other cities by the end of June, with all American forces out of the country by the end of 2011.


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