Defense secretary says U.S. may need to pause in drawdown of troops from Iraq

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By ROBERT BURNS

AP Military Writer

FORWARD OPERATING BASE FALCON, Iraq (AP) -- Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Monday endorsed, for the first time, the idea of pausing the drawdown of U.S. forces from Iraq this summer.

"A brief period of consolidation and evaluation probably does make sense," Gates told reporters after meeting with Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq. Petraeus has indicated in recent weeks that he wants a "period of evaluation" this summer to assess the impact on Iraq security of reducing the U.S. military presence from 20 brigades to 15 brigades.

Of that five-brigade reduction, only one has departed thus far. The last of the five is to be gone by the end of July.

In his remarks at this U.S. base in southern Baghdad, Gates said Petraeus had given him his view on the drawdown, which some fear could result in giving up some of the security gains of recent months.

In endorsing Petraeus' suggestion of pausing after July, Gates made it clear that President Bush would have the final say. Until now it had been unclear how Gates felt about the idea of a pause; he had said publicly a number of times that he hoped conditions in Iraq would permit a continuation of the drawdown in the second half of the year.

In his remarks here, Gates indicated that he had begun some time ago to lean in Petraeus' direction.

"In my own thinking I had been kind of headed in that direction as well," Gates said. "But one of the keys is how long is that period (of pause and evaluation) and then what happens after that."