Washington, Jan 13: The United States could start withdrawing forces from Iraq this year if the additional troops being sent to Baghdad reduce violence significantly, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said on Friday.
"If these operations actually work you could begin to see a lightening of the U.S. footprint both in Baghdad and Iraq itself," Gates told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Defending President George W. Bush's plan against intense opposition from the new Democratic-led Congress for the second day in a row, Gates cautioned that adding more U.S. forces would not end sectarian violence in Iraq.
But if it lowers the violence "significantly" and the Iraqi government fulfills its promises, "then you could have a situation later this year where you could actually begin withdrawing," he said.
Bush vowed in an interview with CBS to press ahead with his plan to send an additional 21,000 troops to Iraq, regardless of whether Congress tries to impede him. The United States has about 130,000 troops in Iraq now.
"I fully understand (Congress) could try to stop me from doing it," Bush said. "But I made my decision -- we're going forward."
At the hearing on Capitol Hill, senators said Bush's strategy depended far too heavily on the Iraqi government keeping promises it had failed to keep before.