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Logistics of a faster Iraq exit

Will Obama be able to get most US forces out in 16 months?

Leaving: A US soldier high-fives an Iraqi boy Jan. 24 at the opening of a high school in Baghdad renovated by American forces.

Saad Salash/Reuters

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President Obama's plan to bring American troops home from Iraq is beginning to jell, but whether he keeps his campaign promise to do it in 16 months may depend on logistics, security needs in Afghanistan, and the political dynamic he confronts at the Pentagon.

Ultimately, the decision rests with the new commander in chief, who will either lean on a timeline-oriented departure to meet political goals or a conditions-based plan more pleasing to military commanders that could take two years or more.

Mr. Obama is expected to meet this week with the heads of the four services, including the Army and Marine Corps, who are eager to move beyond Iraq. Obama will weigh their views with those of senior commanders, including Gen. David Petraeus and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, both of whom are inclined to take more than 16 months to withdraw from Iraq.

"We have ... been looking at several options, and obviously 16 months is one of them," Mr. Gates told reporters Thursday.

The rate of departure may be first determined by what the president decides should now be the American security posture in Iraq. Many foreign-policy experts say the US has a strategic interest in leaving a sizable force there for years to come, and some believe that could mean as many as 60,000 troops remain in noncombat-related roles. The Bush administration has signed a "status of forces agreement" that requires most troops to be out of Iraq by 2011.

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