Robert Gates, whom Barack Obama has retained as defence secretary, has declined to back the president-elect’s timetable for withdrawal from Iraq.
Gates said he supports Obama’s Iraq policy but was non-committal when asked about his plans to bring US troops home.
“I think that I would subscribe to what the president-elect said yesterday in Chicago. He repeated his desire to try to get our combat forces out within 16 months, but he also said that he wanted to have a responsible draw-down and he also said that he was prepared to listen to his commanders.”, he told reporters.
Bloodshed in Iraq is continuing to underline how difficult any early troop withdrawal will be.
At least 14 people were killed in bomb attacks across the country, including a child caught in a blast near a school in the northern city of Mosul.
Levels of violence are falling but some parts of the country remain a long way from stability.