WASHINGTON (AP) _ Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack said Tuesday he favors removing most American troops from the Baghdad area and southern Iraq while maintaining a smaller security force in northern Iraq for a limited period.

Vilsack, who announced last week he would seek the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, said Iraq may have to endure a period of heavy violence following an American troop redeployment, but that it was the only way to force the Iraqi government to make the hard decisions about restoring order to the fractured country.

``It's tough love, no question about it,'' Vilsack told The Associated Press in a wide-ranging interview. ``It may very well require them to go through some chaotic and very difficult times for them to finally decide it is not in their interest to continue down that road.''

There are currently about 140,000 American troops stationed in Iraq, most in Baghdad and the vast Anbar Province in the western part of the country.

Vilsack called the continued presence of American troops in Iraq ``both a crutch and an excuse,'' delaying the Iraqi government from seizing control of the country and tamping down the sectarian violence. He said continued U.S. presence in the country also bolstered the notion that the Bush Administration was primarily interested in the country's oil resources.

``We can't cut the legs out from under that argument in the Islamic world,'' Vilsack warned, unless the American troop presence is drawn down and the U.S. begins actively developing alternative sources of energy.

Vilsack said that as president, he would consult with military leaders about how many of the 140,000 troops currently in Iraq to install along the northern border. The rest, he said, he would redeploy elsewhere or send home.

Vilsack acknowledged he was an underdog in a Democratic presidential field likely to include New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, among others.