By Andrew Gray
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States expects to have about 140,000 troops in Iraq even after completing a planned drawdown of combat forces in July, the Pentagon said on Monday.
The forecast, which prompted swift criticism from Democrats, means there will still be 8,000 more U.S. troops in Iraq than when President George W. Bush ordered a surge of extra forces in January 2007 to curb violence.
Army Lt. Gen. Carter Ham, director of operations for the U.S. military's Joint Staff, also said it was too soon to predict if troop numbers could go below the pre-surge level of 132,000 any time this year.
"In Iraq, we're now projecting approximately 140,000 troops there in July," Ham told reporters at the Pentagon.
"There certainly is full expectation that there will be further reductions," he said. "When those will begin and at what pace they will continue -- it's premature at this point to talk about that."
There are currently some 158,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.