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U.S. Bringing Brigade Home From Iraq Six Weeks Early

BAGHDAD (Reuters) -- Washington will accelerate its plans to reduce the number of combat troops in Iraq by bringing a brigade home this month, six weeks earlier than anticipated, the U.S. military said.

The 2nd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division, based in northwest Baghdad where attacks have dropped sharply, had been scheduled to leave Iraq after January 1. A brigade has about 3,500 soldiers.

"Due to the continued improving security environment...the unit is able to redeploy six weeks early," said military spokesman Colonel Bill Buckner.

The outgoing administration of President George W. Bush announced in September it would reduce the U.S. force in Iraq to 14 combat brigades from 15 early next year.

Buckner said the early departure meant the reduction would take place ahead of schedule. Under current plans, 14 combat brigades are due to remain in Iraq through next year.

U.S. President-elect Barack Obama, who will become U.S. president in January, campaigned on a promise to bring combat troops home from Iraq by mid-2010.

The reduction of the U.S. force of about 150,000 in Iraq reflects the growing confidence of U.S. military leaders that security gains in Iraq can be maintained.

U.S. military activities would become more limited next year under a deal that U.S. and Iraqi officials hope to conclude by the end of the year to replace a UN troop mandate. The agreement would allow U.S. troops to stay through 2011 and would restrict U.S. patrols of Iraqi cities and towns by mid-2009.