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Middle East

US cuts troop numbers in Iraq by two brigades

The United States will reduce the number of combat brigades in Iraq from 14 to 12 , totalling about 12,000 troops, in the next six months, the US military said, a step in President Barack Obama's plan to end combat operations by August, 2010.

"Two brigade combat teams who were scheduled to redeploy in the next six months, along with enabling forces such as logistics, engineers and intelligence, will not be replaced," a statement said. That would cut the number of American troops to approximately 128,000. More than 4,000 British troops are also due to leave Iraq within months.

Six years after the US-led invasion to oust Saddam Hussein, Mr Obama plans to leave 35,000 to 50,000 support and training troops after August 2010, now that Washington has shifted its military focus to Afghanistan.

Last month, the President ordered 17,000 extra troops to Afghanistan to tackle the insurgency. Under a US-Iraqi security pact, signed by former President George Bush, all US troops are to leave Iraq by 2012.

Reducing the number of U.S. combat brigades in Iraq from 14 to 12 will cut the number of American troops by 12,000 from around 140,000 now, said Major-General David Perkins, spokesman for US forces in Iraq.

Perkins told a news conference that 4,000 troops from Britain, Bush's chief ally in the 2003 invasion, would also leave Iraq in the coming months.

The sectarian and insurgent violence that has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of Iraqis and more than 4,500 foreign troops since 2003 has fallen off sharply.

Perkins said violence was currently at its lowest level since around August 2003 and Iraq was in a "stable situation."