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ARLINGTON, Va. — With the level of violence in Iraq expected to remain at current levels for at least the next four months, U.S. commanders are not planning to make any near-term reductions in the 135,000 U.S. troops in that country, a key U.S. commander in Iraq said Tuesday.

“We’re not at that point yet,” Army Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, commander of the Multinational Corps Iraq, told Pentagon reporters Tuesday.

“We don’t see the insurgency contracting or expanding right now,” Vines said in a video-telephone conference from his Baghdad headquarters. “What we see is it is relatively static.”

So, “at this point, I would not be prepared to recommend a drawdown prior to the election” in December, when Iraq is supposed to vote on a permanent government, Vines said.

However, Vines said, he also does not anticipate a repeat of last fall’s troop increase, when U.S. military commanders brought in additional forces and held others longer than expected in order to support the first Iraq national elections in January.

“Right now, I don’t see a spike to support that (upcoming) referendum,” Vines said, although he did not rule out the possibility entirely.

“If we think the conditions have changed,” more U.S. troops might be brought in, Vines said.

Moreover, “I suspect we will begin to draw down U.S. capability after the elections,” Vines said.

Vines said he agreed with a March 8 assessment by his boss, Gen. George Casey, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, that U.S. troop levels may begin to reduce by "fairly significant levels" in March 2006.

Vines carries out all operations and orders given him by Casey, who is top military commander in Iraq, with oversight of all coalition forces.

Asked whether “fairly significant” might indicate a reduction of four or five brigades, or about 16,000 to 20,000 troops, Vines said “it would probably be somewhere in that range, that would be my guess.”

But for now, in the absence of a “political solution … I’m assuming that the insurgency will remain at about its current level,” Vines said.

“And our job is to make sure the election process is allowed to proceed without being murdered in its infancy.”

That process includes a referendum scheduled four months from now, in October, at which time Iraqis are due to approve or reject a national constitution, Vines said.

Vines said he would be opposed to “announcing a timeline in advance” for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq, a suggestion raised last week by a bipartisan group of lawmakers.

Although “we want to come down as quickly as conditions permit,” Vines said, any mandate from Congress ordering a phased drawdown would be “an arbitrary condition based on a calendar,” rather than reality on the ground.

“To rapidly cut [U.S. force levels], without any significant change in conditions or without time to assess them, would not be a wise course of action,” Vines said.

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