Gen. David Petraeus has recommended against any significant reduction of U.S. forces in Iraq before the end of the year, ABC News has learned.
The only drawdown Petraeus has called for, according to a senior military official familiar with his recommendation, is a modest reduction of two Marine battalions, or about 1,500 Marines, a tiny fraction of the 146,000 U.S. troops now in Iraq.
Under Petraeus's plan, the number of combat brigades -- which now stands at 15 -- would remain unchanged until next January at the earliest.
The recommendation is now being considered by top officials at the White House and the Pentagon. A final decision on future force levels is expected to be announced by President Bush early next week.
Under the plan, two Marine battalions due to go home this fall will not be replaced. The units that would have replaced them are likely to head to Afghanistan instead. There are currently about 25,000 Marines in Iraq, almost all of them in Anbar Province, which was turned over to Iraqi control earlier this week.
If Petraeus's recommendations are accepted, there would be no further reduction until early 2009, when one Army combat brigade that is due to go home would not replaced. Instead, the troops that would have replaced them are likely to go to Afghanistan.
In Petraeus's view, a quicker or deeper reduction of U.S. forces over the next several months would jeopardize the dramatic security gains Iraq has witnessed over the past year.
"What's in front of the commander between now and the end of the year is a great deal of uncertainly," a senior military official told ABC News. "He's using everything he's got, and we don't see the landscape changing dramatically between now and the end of the year."
Among the factors Petraeus cites are security needs surrounding upcoming provincial elections and the continued threat of Al Qaeda in Iraq. Another concern cited is uncertainty about the future of the so-called Sons of Iraq, the Sunni tribesman and former insurgents now working informally with coalition forces.
It had been widely anticipated that there would be troop reductions of up to 7,000 troops before the end of the year, although neither the White House nor the Pentagon had committed to those reductions.
Last month, however, the White House for the first time said the president was prepared to accept a "time horizon" for the withdrawal of U.S. troops in its negotiations with the Iraqi government over a long-term security agreement.
Such a slow reduction of forces in Iraq may complicate U.S. efforts in Afghanistan. Commanders in Afghanistan have said they need at least another three combat brigades, or about 10,500 troops, but Pentagon officials have said those troops won't be available until force levels in Iraq are reduced.