By ROBERT BURNS, AP Military Writer 5 minutes ago
Iraq selection of top government leaders marked a major step toward creating conditions that could allow a substantial number of U.S. troops to leave in the months ahead, the top American commander in the country said Wednesday.
"I'm still on my general timeline," Army Gen. George Casey told reporters after meeting with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who arrived unannounced for a daylong series of meetings with top U.S. commanders and the newly selected Iraqi leaders.
Casey did not elaborate on his timeline for reducing U.S. forces, but he has said in the past that a "fairly substantial" reduction could be made this year if the insurgency did not grow worse and if Iraq made continued progress on the political and security training fronts.
Asked whether the breakthrough agreements last weekend to name Jawad al-Maliki as prime minister and to fill six other top government posts moves U.S. officials closer to implementing the expected troop reductions this year, Casey replied, "It certainly is a major step in the process."
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