Speaking in Baghdad during his first visit to Iraq this year, Gates backs away from earlier plans to start drawing down the troops.

In his remarks at this U.S. base in southern Baghdad, Gates said Petraeus had given him his view on the drawdown, which some fear could result in giving up some of the security gains of recent months.

In endorsing Petraeus’ suggestion of pausing after July, Gates made it clear that President Bush would have the final say. Until now it had been unclear how Gates felt about the idea of a pause; he had said publicly a number of times that he hoped conditions in Iraq would permit a continuation of the drawdown in the second half of the year.

In his remarks here, Gates indicated that he had begun some time ago to lean in Petraeus’ direction.

“In my own thinking I had been kind of headed in that direction as well,” Gates said. “But one of the keys is how long is that period (of pause and evaluation) and then what happens after that.”

Although Petraeus and other senior commanders in Iraq had been suggesting the possibility of a pause in the drawdown, the idea runs counter to those in the military – particularly in the Army and Marine Corps – who worry that strains on troops from long and multiple combat tours will grow worse unless the drawdown continues after July.

As usual, the troops are expected to be superhuman. No wonder active duty GIs are committing suicide at 120 per week.