General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also said on Sunday that US troop levels in Iraq were being re-assessed on a monthly basis. 

The admission by the top general follows a decision by the Pentagon to reduce its presence in Iraq by two army brigades, which amounts to about 7000 soldiers. 

"Understandably, Iraqis themselves would prefer to have coalition forces leave their country as soon as possible," Pace said on the Fox News Sunday show.

"They don't want us to leave tomorrow, but they do want us to leave as soon as possible." 

Increasingly unpopular 

Some US foreign policy experts have expressed concern that a new Iraqi government emerging from the 15 December parliamentary elections could ask US-led troops to leave, but officials have dismissed that forecast as unrealistic. 

"Understandably, Iraqis themselves would prefer to have coalition forces leave their country as soon as possible"

General Peter Pace, chairman,
US Joint Chiefs of Staff

However, an opinion survey conducted in Iraq in October and
November by ABC News and a pool of other US and foreign media outlets showed that US military operations in the country were increasingly unpopular. 

Two-thirds of those polled said they opposed the presence of US-led forces in Iraq, up 14 points from a similar survey taken in February 2004. 

Nearly 60% disapproved of the way the United States has operated in Iraq since the war began in March 2003, with most of those expressing "strong disapproval", the poll found. 

Regular assessment

Pace denied the US Defence Department had prepared a plan that called for bringing the US troop level in Iraq below 100,000 by the end of 2006.

But he said force requirements in Iraq were being regularly assessed by the top US military commander there, General George Casey.

"They do a very, very thorough analysis, literally once a month, in great detail," Pace said. "They then determine how many troops they need to get the job done."