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Odierno to Leave as Top Commander in Iraq After Drawdown

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Gen. Ray Odierno talks to a reporter during a visit to soldiers at Forward Operating Base Cobra in the Diyala province, Iraq, Jan. 2. (AP Photo)

Gen. Ray Odierno, the top commander in Iraq for the past three years, plans to rotate out of the country at the end of the summer, when combat troops are due to leave, two military officials at the Pentagon confirmed to Fox News.

Odierno is not being asked to leave nor is he retiring. The move is considered a normal rotation that was decided on among senior military leadership. 

The timing of Odierno's departure coincides with Obama's plan to have all combat troops out of Iraq at the end of September, leaving 50,000 servicemembers to "advise and assist." At that point, Odierno will take over Joint Forces Command, which trains forces from all branches of the military to work together.

Odierno would not confirm his departure date, but told Fox News on Tuesday, "I will stay here as long as the president wants me to stay.

"It's an honor to serve with these young men and women here in Iraq every day," he added.

Odierno had been scheduled to leave the country in the spring, but President Obama asked him to extend his stay, according to a military source. He is staying to oversee the largest redeployment of the military since World War II. Currently, 95,000 U.S. troops are in Iraq.

Under the current Status of Forces Agreement with Iraq all forces will be out of the country by the end of 2011.

Plans for his replacement are not final, but one official said Lt. Gen. Lloyd Austin is considered the front-runner for the job. Austin has previously served under Odierno in Iraq and currently is working with the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"He is a well-schooled, well-grounded individual," said retired Gen. Hugh Shelton, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Odierno took over command in Iraq from Gen. David Petraeus. He has served in various senior Army positions in Iraq since 2006. Odierno is less well known, although he cuts an imposing figure at more than 6 feet tall, burly and bald.

Odierno is already the longest serving general in the Iraq conflict. He's spent 18 months as top commander and previously served another two years as a Corps and Division commander. His unit was responsible for locating ex-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein when he was in hiding in a snake hole.

"He has done an absolutely superb job. We as a nation owe a debt to him," Shelton said.

Odierno is known as the principal architect of the surge, a buildup of 20,000 U.S. troops in Iraq back in 2007. 

Fox News' Justin Fishel, Mike Emanuel and Malini Wilkes contributed to this report.