WASHINGTON — Top Army leaders and combat zone force planners anticipate reducing the total number of troops needed to occupy Iraq within the next year, according to the Army’s No. 2 officer.

“I think the next force rotation, we’ll start seeing that the force rotation coming in will be smaller than the force that’s in there right now,” the Army’s vice chief of staff Gen. Richard Cody told reporters Thursday in Washington.

Any reductions, Cody underlined, however, hinge on Iraqi forces coming online.

“It’s really based upon where they are in-country with the Iraqi [units] and security in the major population centers,” Cody said.

In what’s been dubbed Operation Iraqi Freedom III, a new wave of units — from the corps-level headquarters down to individual combat battalions — are now wrapping up assumption of war-fighting duties there.

The first OIF IV rotations are slated to begin in June, Cody said, with three brigades tapped to rotate in.

“Those brigades will go as is,” Cody said. “It is the latter deploying brigades that may go in with a different footprint,” he said.

Among the units slated to deploy in the next rotation are 1st Armored Division’s two Germany-based brigades.

Current Pentagon plans call for 17 Army and Marine Corps brigades in Iraq through 2008, he said. Cody said he’s already seen several draft proposals from the U.S. Central Command staff and Gen. George Casey’s field headquarters in Baghdad for possible reductions.

Cody declined to say how significant any potential reductions might be.

“The number: yet to be determined,” Cody said. “That planning is ongoing” he said, explaining Casey will brief the Joint Staff at the Pentagon on his formal request in April “and lay out what he thinks the next rotation will look like.”

In addition to a reduction in troops, Casey said planners were looking at the composition of units needed in Iraq.

Just as tank and mechanized infantry units traded their heavy metal gear for lighter Humvees and trucks as units transitioned from the invasion force of OIF I to the occupation formation of OIF II, Cody said similar adjustments might be made as troops continue to wrestle with the insurgency.

In the end, Cody said, the planning adjustments could mean “less combat patrol companies or less equipment or a combination thereof."

Meanwhile, top staffs — including his own — are being scoured to provide additional troops to augment training for the Iraqi army.

Cody said 666 staff officers and senior NCOs from the Army staff, Joint Staff and other top headquarters are now getting orders to Iraq.

Another 1,140 troops are being sourced by brigade combat teams already in country to work as advisers with local units in their areas.

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