Bush agrees to cut US troops in Iraq - official

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WASHINGTON, Sep 13 (Reuters) President George W Bush plans to withdraw 5,700 troops from Iraq by December and has accepted recommendations on force numbers by the top US commander and diplomat in Iraq, a senior administration official said today.

In a televised address on Thursday evening, Bush will also endorse their proposal to reduce US forces to 15 brigades from 20 now, the official said, without giving a time frame.

''The president will accept that recommendation and implement it as commander in chief,'' the official said.

Trying to rally public support in the face of growing Democratic opposition to his Iraq strategy, Bush will deliver a a televised address after two days of congressional testimony this week by his top officials in Baghdad.

Bush will embrace Gen David Petraeus' recommendation to gradually withdraw up to 30,000 of the 169,000 troops currently in Iraq, bringing US force down to what it was before he ordered a buildup in January.

The proposed drawdown would not be as fast or as large as Democrats in the US Congress have demanded, but it could buy time for Bush to pursue the war by undermining a push for a wider withdrawal.

Bush has touted Thursday's speech at 0630 hrs IST tomorrow as a chance to ''lay out a vision'' for future US involvement in Iraq four and a half years after the US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.

The White House has signaled little chance of a major shift in policy, which could also make Bush's address a tough sell.

Polls generally show Americans 2-to-1 against the war.

A new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found just 30 per cent of Americans approved of his handling of Iraq, but that was an 8-point jump from 22 per cent in July.

Democrats in control of the US Congress were largely unconvinced by Petraeus' accounts of progress in Iraq, and House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused Bush of effectively signing off on a 10-year ''open-ended'' commitment.

Some of Bush's fellow Republicans have also voiced doubts over his strategy.

Democrats say the White House is putting the best political spin on what Pentagon officials have been saying for months - that the ''surge'' of forces in Iraq this year faces a time limit because of the risk of overstretching the US military.

The recommended troop reduction in coming months would still leave 130,000 US troops in Iraq by next summer, and Petraeus said he would have to wait until March before assessing the prospects for any further drawdown.

Reuters SZ VP0120

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