WASHINGTON — Army Gen. David Petraeus has recommended that President Bush postpone sharp troop cuts in Iraq until next year, delaying a large-scale shift of combat forces to Afghanistan and reflecting concerns that widespread violence could return to Iraq.
Under the recommendation, the current level of about 140,000 troops would remain in Iraq through the end of Bush's presidency in January. Then, a combat brigade of about 3,500 troops would be removed by February, a senior Pentagon official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the recommendation has not been made public.
The move would represent a compromise between Petraeus and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, composed of the uniformed heads of the Army, Marines, Navy and Air Force. The Joint Chiefs had hoped for a sharper cut — of up to 10,000 troops — by the end of the year.
Petraeus had pushed to keep 140,000 troops, or 15 combat brigades and support personnel, until next June.
Any further changes would be decided by the next administration, military officials said.
The recommendation contrasts with Petraeus' statements before Congress in May, when he predicted an autumn troop reduction, even if a small one. The warning against deep cutbacks also comes amid a sharp debate in the presidential campaign, in which Republican John McCain has praised Bush's troop strategy and Democrat Barack Obama has said he would withdraw troops to send more forces to Afghanistan.
Pentagon officials emphasized that the recommendations have not been accepted by President Bush. But over the last 18 months, Bush has deferred to Petraeus, who has accepted the compromise. The White House said Bush is considering the advice.
In recent months, Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has stressed the importance of increasing the number of troops in Afghanistan to counter a growing threat by extremists. But because of the strains of combat on the armed forces, plans to boost the number of troops in Afghanistan have depended on reducing the size of the force in Iraq.
One source of the strain, the 2007 troop buildup ordered by Bush, came to an end in the July when the last of 21,500 additional combat troops left.