The senior U.S. commander in Iraq is preparing a plan for military operations that sets summer 2009 as the goal for achieving a sustainable level of security throughout the country, his spokesman said on Tuesday.

The draft, developed by Gen. David Petraeus’ staff, lays out a series of security-related goals over two years, envisioning U.S. troops in the war zone through 2009.

The plan, first reported by The New York Times, comes as Democrats in the U.S. Congress press for a strategy change that leads to withdrawal.

The Bush administration, however, has called for more time to establish security in Iraq so that Iraqi politicians can make progress on benchmarks seen by Washington as critical to long-term stability.

Security gains in parts of Iraq, however, have been slow to materialize, underscored by Petraeus’ goal of sustainable security throughout the country by summer 2009.

While Petraeus’ campaign plan stretches through 2009, the Pentagon stressed it was a planning document.

Decisions on how long troops will stay in Iraq will not be made before Petraeus submits a September progress report on the current security crackdown focused on Baghdad, said Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman.

“There is a timeline — a timeline for an assessment, an assessment that as you know we will be conducting in September,” Whitman said.

“Decisions and direction will flow based on that assessment and recommendations from commanders as well as the leadership of this building — the secretary of defense,” he said.

Petraeus’ spokesman in Baghdad, Col. Steven Boylan, would not discuss troop levels anticipated by the campaign plan. He also would not say whether Petraeus’ staff was preparing plans for a possible withdrawal, should Bush change the strategy.

The United States added about 30,000 troops to Iraq, bringing the total force to about 157,000, under the current security plan aimed at establishing enough security to allow Iraqi politicians to make progress toward reconciliation.

All of the so-called “surge” forces have been in place since June 15. Democrats in Congress, however, are calling for a strategy change leading to withdrawal.

Gates met with some senior Democrats in the House of Representatives, including the House speaker and chairmen of the Armed Services and Foreign Affairs Committees, on Tuesday to answer questions about Iraq.

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said he did not know if the lawmakers asked about the Petraeus plan.

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