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White House: US on Track to End Iraq Combat Role

President Barack Obama is satisfied that United States can safely end its combat role in Iraq on schedule at the end of the month, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Wednesday after the president was briefed by his national security team and the top U.S. commander in Iraq.

Obama met with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, national security adviser James Jones and, by videoconference, the U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. Ray Odierno.

"The president heard directly from General Odierno, who said that we were on target to complete our drawdown by the end of August. Already we have removed over 80,000 troops from Iraq since President Obama took office," Gibbs said.

He said Odierno reported that the security situation has retained the significant improvements made over the last couple of years and that Iraqi security forces are fully prepared to take over.

Obama has vowed both to end the official U.S. combat mission on schedule and to move all remaining U.S. troops off Iraqi soil by the end of 2011.

Asked whether any doubts were expressed at the meeting about the 2011 deadline, Gibbs said "not that I'm aware of."

He suggested it might be "premature" to get into a discussion about the final withdrawal of U.S. troops before Iraq is able to form a new government. "What we hope and what was always envisioned is that the security gains would lead to political gains, and that's what we're hoping to see in the formation of a new government," he said.

Efforts to come up with a new government five months after the March 7 election have stalled.

Gibbs said that the president also received an update from Vice President Joe Biden and Christopher Hill, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, "on our efforts to support Iraq's leaders as they form a new government and to transition to civilian lead within Iraq."

In a National Public Radio interview from Baghdad earlier in the day, Hill said the pace of political progress has quickened in recent weeks and that "things may be heading in the right direction" even though "more needs to be done."

"We understood this was not going to be a quick process," Gibbs said, noting that "the last one took six months."

"But we are on target by the end of the month to end our combat mission, turn over bases that Americans have been on to the Iraqis and transition our role there," Gibbs said.

Still, Gibbs said that an uptick in violence was expected, both as part of the start of the monthlong Islamic observance of Ramadan and "as those that are left try to gain attention."

Ongoing attacks against Iraq's security forces come as the U.S. is moving to reduce its troop levels to 50,000 by the end of August.

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