ARLINGTON, Va. — The Iraq deployment of the Army’s 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division in Germany “will not begin its deployment for Iraq in early May, as scheduled,” Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman announced Monday.

The 3,500 troops, who are based in Schweinfurt, were supposed to begin the deployment this week, starting with moving the brigade’s heavy equipment toward the Middle East by rail, Whitman said.

Instead, the unit’s deployment is “on hold,” Whitman told Pentagon reporters.

“This unit may deploy in the future, it may deploy later on,” he said. “Those decisions haven’t been made yet.”

As for whether this means that the 2-1 will now be sent back to the U.S., Army spokesman Lt. Col. Carl Ey said no, this has no effect on that schedule, which was “way down the road.”

Defense leaders including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Army Gen. George Casey, who oversees U.S. forces in Iraq, made the decision to hold back the 2nd Brigade’s deployment “in the last 72 hours,” Whitman said.

The decision was “conditions-based” and “made as commanders assessed the security situation on the ground in Iraq,” Whitman said.

Touting significant progress in building Iraq’s security forces, particularly the army, U.S. military leaders hinted U.S. troop levels would be reduced after the January 2006 Iraq elections.

But talk of troop reductions was muted as violence continued to soar, particularly against Iraqi civilians.

Meanwhile, political progress came to a dead stop as Iraq’s different factions scrambled for control of various ministries and squabbled over who would lead the country.

The stalemate was finally broken April 22, when Shiite Nouri al-Malaki was nominated to replace controversial interim Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari.

With al-Malaki now working to seat his Cabinet, another vital step forward in Iraq’s new democracy, “obviously, there’s been a degree of political progress in Iraq,” Whitman said.

Nevertheless, Whitman said, the decision to hold the 2nd Brigade’s deployment should not be read as a decision to reduce the number of U.S. forces in Iraq over the long-term.

“At this point, this is a decision to hold one brigade from deploying in May,” Whitman said. “What is important is that this does not change the number of U.S. forces on the ground in the near term,” which is now about 133,000.

Asked whether there will still be 133,000 U.S. troops in Iraq in July, Whitman replied, “Time will tell.”

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up