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Bush stays mum on U.S. troop reductions

  • Story Highlights
  • Bush: Decisions about troop cuts would be based on general's recommendations
  • President intends to withdraw five combat brigades from Iraq by July
  • Petraeus expected to hold off on additional troop-cut recommendations
  • October provincial elections in Iraq may play a role in the decision on troop levels
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CRAWFORD, Texas (CNN) -- President Bush refused to say Saturday whether he will scale back U.S. troop levels in Iraq more than planned by the time he leaves office.

Bush ordered nearly 30,000 additional troops to Iraq in January 2007 to secure Baghdad and its surrounding provinces.

When the last of the five Army combat brigades and two Marine battalions ordered in as part of that campaign leaves Iraq by July, 140,000 troops will remain -- about 8,000 more than the 132,000 American troops stationed there before the "surge."

"In terms of troops levels, there is going to be enormous speculation, again, about what decision I will make," Bush said Saturday.

"I can only tell you ... that it's going to be based upon the recommendations of Secretary Gates and Gen. Petraeus" and the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The president was referring to Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq.

"My sole criteria is, whatever we do, it ought to be in the context of success. If we fail in Iraq, the consequences for world peace will be enormous; the consequences for the United States will be enormous," he said.

Bush spoke to reporters at his ranch near Crawford, Texas, alongside visiting Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

In September, Bush announced that he intended to withdraw five combat brigades from Iraq by July, leaving about 15 brigades there.

Petraeus has been indicating for weeks that he wanted to hold off making additional troop-cut recommendations until the security situation is assessed. He has indicated that the pause would come after that reduction is completed, according to Pentagon officials.

The additional troops who went to Iraq in early 2007 have been credited with at least temporarily quelling the violence, especially in Baghdad.

Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker are expected to go to Washington in April to give their recommendations for troops levels to Bush.

Bush indicated that the October provincial elections in Iraq would play a role in the decision on troop levels.

"I think our generals ought to be concerned about making sure there's enough of a presence so that the provincial elections can be carried off in such a way so that democracy advances," he said.

Bush said he believed "in the policy of return on success" in Iraq, of "returning some of our troops based on success."

He added, "That is precisely what the Danish government did, because they were successful in their mission, and I congratulate you, Mr. Prime Minister, for having a vision."

Denmark withdrew its 470 troops from Iraq last summer. Danish troops still serve with NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan.

Rasmussen said Denmark and the United States share a responsibility to stand by people "living under repression and brutal regimes."

"That is why we are in Afghanistan to fight the Taliban; that is why we removed a brutal dictator in Iraq; that is why your leadership in the Middle East is crucial," he told Bush. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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