Iraq eyes big drop in foreign forces by end 2008

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BAGHDAD, Sep 12 (Reuters) Foreign troop levels in Iraq could drop to less than 100,000 by the end of 2008 if Iraq's own forces were ready and security threats had diminished, Iraq's national security adviser said today.

''Maybe it is not far from the truth if we said that by the end of next year, multinational forces could be less than 100,000,'' Mowaffaq al-Rubaie told a news conference.

''This all depends on the security circumstances and the level of the threat, whether from inside the country or in the region. This also depends on the level of training of the Iraqi forces,'' Rubaie said.

He did not speak specifically about US troop numbers -- currently at 168,000 -- but the overwhelming majority of foreign soldiers in Iraq are American.

Rubaie was speaking following two days of testimony by the US military commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, who has recommended cutting US forces by about 30,000 by next July because of reduced violence in Iraq.

That would bring US troop numbers down to around 130,000, roughly the same level before an increase ordered by US President George W Bush early this year.

US force reductions would continue after next summer, Petraeus said on Monday, adding it would be premature to make recommendations now on the pace of such cuts. Such an assessment could be made by March 2008, he said.

REUTERS CS SSC1343

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