WASHINGTON – Recommendations from U.S. generals and the new Iraqi government will determine how many U.S. troops will remain in Iraq, President Bush said Monday, casting aside reports that sharp troop reductions are in the works ahead of November's midterm election.
Gen. George Casey, head of Multinational Force in Iraq, met with Bush last Friday, at which time the two reviewed joint U.S.-Iraqi force operations to secure Baghdad as well as actions in Ramadi aimed at securing that city by running out members of Al Qaeda.
The president said the two also discussed troop levels, but no decisions have been made.
"As you well know, our standards are the Iraqis stand up, the coalition will be able to stand down," Bush said Monday during a question and answer period with reporters after a meeting with organizations providing support to U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and their families.
"In terms of our troop presence there, that decision will be made by General Casey, as well as the sovereign government of Iraq, based upon conditions on the ground. And one of the things that General Casey assured me of is that, whatever recommendation he makes, it will be aimed toward achieving victory," Bush said.
Speculation is rampant following Casey's visit that he will call for a reduction of two combat brigades, about 7,000 troops, to be removed from Iraq in September. The New York Times also reported that Casey has drafted a plan that projects five or six combat brigades will remain in Iraq from the current level of 14 by the end of 2007. That's a reduction of about 28,000 troops. Currently, 127,000 U.S. troops are deployed in Iraq.
Without offering any wholesale numbers, White House spokesman Tony Snow said that a reduction of two combat brigades was among the options being considered, but no recommendations have been made yet.
"General Casey proposes lots of things and actually laid out more than one option. And everybody's fastening on one," Snow said. "... Certainly that's under consideration, but I would warn against saying this is what he's saying, this is what he wants."
He added that any plans are usually the first casualty of contact with the enemy.
The general has "a number of scenarios in mind for differing situations on the ground," Snow said, adding "I'm certainly not going to announce in advance anything that he may have in mind for the president or that he may be recommending."
"When he makes a recommendation the president's going to follow it. He trusts General Casey and he's made it clear," Snow said.
The numbers options have frustrated some Democrats, who've been asking for months when a reduction will happen. Last week, Senate Democrats unsuccessfully offered two amendments to the defense planning bill that would have set timetables for bringing troops out of Iraq.
Democrats say Casey's options about slicing troop numbers in half by next year are no different than estimations made by Democrats about the right time to bring troops home.
"Republicans are determined to reject any Democratic ideas, simply because they come from Democrats, and yet the Bush administration is proceeding with planning reductions in our military presence in Iraq immediately before the midterm elections," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.
"Instead of offering real strategies for success, Republicans continue to play politics with this war. When it comes to Iraq, the only schedule that matters to Republicans is the U.S. election schedule," she added.
"Frankly, it's one of the worst-kept secrets in this town that there is going to be reductions in our forces, redeployments in our forces, before the election. I mean, it's obvious what's going on here," said Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., who sponsored one of the Democratic amendments. "Let me tell you something, it will be the greatest shock in this town -- it would be like a tornado hitting this town, frankly -- if there's not a reduction in our forces prior to the election."
But Snow said neither of the timetables debated in the Senate or other suggestions by House Democrats have taken into account whether conditions on the ground would permit an exodus of U.S. forces.
"Let's suppose, for the sake of argument, that you get the two battalions out by the end of the year. What's the difference? I think that's really kind of the political question you're interested in," Snow said. "Difference number one: The redeployment or the moving of battalions would be based on conditions on the ground, not on the calendar. Number two, the ultimate goal would be to win, not to get out."
"There should not be hard and fast timetables associated with our force adjustments," said White House spokesman Bryan Whitman. "The commanders on the ground need the flexibility to be able to adjust the troop levels based on the conditions that exist."
Whether U.S. troops win or just get out could depend on what the Iraqi government decides to do with insurgents that have been trying to divide the country and foment civil war. On Sunday, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki offered a 24-point reconciliation plan that would allow amnesty for insurgents who are willing to help rebuild the country.
That proposal has earned a lot of scorn from U.S. lawmakers who say insurgents who have killed or injured American soldiers should not be let off the hook.
But with conflicting reports saying that some Sunni groups may be interested in hearing more about the amnesty offer, the Iraqi government could be compelled to move ahead despite U.S. anger, especially since continuing violence -- dozens more dead in Iraq on Monday after two car bombings -- begs a peaceful solution.
"Prime Minister al-Maliki said we'll have the reconciliation program by the Iraqi people for the Iraqi people and it's going to center on reconciliation, pulling people together. I do not support giving amnesty to anyone who in any way has any sort of terrorist activity against our troops. Absolutely not. It stopped short of that. Prime Minister Maliki stopped short of that," Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist told FOX News.
Click here for the Iraq Content Center
FOX News' Wendell Goler and The Associated Press contributed to this report.