BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A "modest acceleration" of U.S. troop withdrawal plans in Iraq could occur, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Wednesday.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, left, walks with U.S. commander in Iraq Gen. Raymond Odierno
Gates said the original plan was to go from 14 to 12 brigade combat teams by January 1, but he said it is possible that maybe one more of the teams could be withdrawn. There are generally 2,500 to 3,000 troops in a brigade combat team.
He said such a move depends on how the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, Gen. Raymond Odierno, assesses the environment for such a move. And it could possibly come before Iraq's parliamentary elections on January 16.
"I don't think there is anything in the cards for a slowdown. I think there is some chance of a modest acceleration. But because of the way Gen. Odierno sees things going, that remains to be seen," Gates told reporters as he departed for the United States.
The Obama administration wants to pull all U.S. combat troops from Iraq by the end of August 2010 and the U.S.-Iraqi security agreement calls for the withdrawal of all U.S. troops by the end of 2011.
Gates had been in the Kurdish region on Wednesday and met in Irbil with Massoud Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan Regional Government.
Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said Gates congratulated Barzani on the recent elections there and urged Kurdish and central government leaders to resolve disputes over oil revenue, territories and security issues.
"We have all sacrificed too much in blood and treasure to see the gains of the last two years lost to political differences," Gates said.
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