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Gates: Pause in Iraq drawdown after July 'makes sense'

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  • NEW: Hundreds of "enemy fighters" killed, captured in six-week operation, U.S. says
  • Baghdad bombs kill 19, wound 45 near Shiite office, says Interior Ministry
  • "Extremists" attack Sons of Iraq near Syria killing more than eight, U.S. says
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BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- A pause in the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq after the current reduction is completed in July "makes sense," Defense Secretary Robert Gates told reporters in Baghdad Monday.

Gates made his comments after meeting with the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, who recently said he would recommend a "pause" in withdrawals after 22,000 U.S. troops return home.

"A period of brief consolidation probably does make sense," Gates said. He did not indicate how long the pause would last or what would happen after that.

President Bush ordered nearly 30,000 additional U.S. troops into Iraq starting in early 2007. The troop buildup -- dubbed "the surge" -- has been credited with at least temporarily easing the tide of violence in the country in the previous months. Video Watch what's behind the push to pause »

A senior U.S. military official in Baghdad told CNN recently that Petraeus feels strongly there should be a period of review before he makes any decisions about additional troop withdrawals.

The official said there is "no determined length" of the pause, but Petraeus wants to "let the dust settle" from the first round of reductions so he can assess the security situation. The already-announced reductions will result in about 22,000 troops returning to their home bases.

"We expect there will be additional troop reductions," the official added, but the pause means Petraeus is not ready to say when they will be -- or even when he will make his recommendations about future reductions.

Petraeus is expected to come to Washington in April and brief President Bush and Congress. The official said he will emphasize that any decisions on further reductions will be based on security conditions in Iraq and the assessment of how security is being handled by Iraqi forces during the pause period.

Gates arrived in the Iraqi capital on Sunday for a previously unannounced visit, his seventh since he took the job in December 2006. He departed Monday.

Other developments:

  • Two CBS News journalists are missing in Basra, Iraq -- the nation's second largest city, the network said Monday in a written statement. "All efforts are under way to find them and until we learn more details, CBS News requests that others do not speculate on the identities of those involved," the statement said.
  • The six-week-old Operation Iron Harvest has captured or killed more than 70 high-value insurgents and hundreds of "enemy fighters" in Nineveh, Salaheddin, Diyala and Tameem provinces, U.S. Maj. Gen. Mark Hertling told reporters Monday. Many other fighters have fled, he said, from Iraqi cities to the desert or to Syria or Saudi Arabia, said Hertling. Some of those who fled Iraq carried cash they received from criminal enterprises, Hertling said, such as kidnapping.
  • More than eight people died Sunday during fighting in northern Iraq between anti-insurgent militia and "extremists," the U.S. military said on Monday. The clash occurred in Sinjar, in Nineveh province near Syria after militia at a "Sons of Iraq compound received small-arms fire and came under attack," the U.S. said. The military said five Sons of Iraq, two women, three children and "several extremists" were killed in the fighting.
  • Near-simultaneous car bombs blew up Monday in central Baghdad, killing at least 19 people and wounding 45 more near Shiite and tribal political offices, said Iraq's Interior Ministry. The blasts killed two Iraqi soldiers and wounded nine other Iraqi troops who were protecting headquarters of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, the ministry said. Other casualties included tribal leaders from the predominantly Sunni Anbar province, the ministry said.
  • Early Monday, a car bomb went off in a predominantly Shiite area in eastern Baghdad, killing one civilian and wounding three others, the Interior Ministry said.
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  • In the western section of Baghdad, a roadside bomb detonated near an Iraqi police checkpoint on Monday close to an amusement park, the ministry said. Two civilians were wounded. And police took into custody a man they suspected of planting the bomb, an official with the ministry said.
  • A roadside bombing in northern Iraq killed a U.S. soldier on Sunday, the U.S. military said on Monday. Two other soldiers were wounded. This brings the number of U.S. military deaths in the Iraq war to 3,953 and the number in February to 16. Seven civilian Pentagon contractors have also been killed in the war.
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    CNN's Jamie McIntyre contributed to this report.

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