Defense Secretary Backs ‘Pause’ in Iraq Troop Withdrawal

“The notion of a brief period of consolidation and evaluation probably does make sense,” Gates told reporters in Baghdad, according to Reuters.

The idea of maintaining troop levels at about 130,000 — the amount before the temporary deployment of 30,000 more troops last year — was first discussed by the U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus.

“We’re going to cut one quarter of our combat power in a period of overall six to eight months,” Petraeus told Reuters. “That’s a very substantial reduction and we want to be prudent in what we do following that so we don’t jeopardize the gains that our troops and our Iraqi partners have fought so hard to achieve.”

The number of U.S. forces has gradually decreased as security has improved and more Iraqi forces are deployed.

Although attacks in Iraq have declined by 60 percent since June, violence in some regions has continued.

On Sunday, militants killed more than 50 people, mainly in the north, where al-Qaida appears to be regrouping after being driven out of western Anbar province and around Baghdad.

On Monday, two car bombs exploded nearly simultaneously in Baghdad near a gas station and near a building in which Sunni tribal leaders who had joined forces against al-Qaida were meeting. At least 14 people died and 45 were wounded, said chief military spokesman for Baghdad Brig. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi, according to the Associated Press.

In addition, the bodies of 13 men who appeared to have been tortured and shot in the head were found in a mass grave in the restive Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad, Reuters reported.

The U.S. military said it had no reports of the discovery, though a local reporter told Reuters he had seen the bodies.

Last week, a grave containing 50 bodies was found near Samarra, about 65 miles north of Baghdad, according to Reuters.

And in the southern city of Basra, two journalists working for CBS News went missing, the company said Monday.

“All efforts are under way to find them and until we learn more details, CBS News requests that others do not speculate on the identities of those involved. CBS News has been in touch with the families and asks that their privacy be respected,” the company said in a statement.