A US military review of strategy in Iraq is likely to back a limited troop increase focused on training, officials have told the Washington Post.
The plan would boost training for Iraqi forces, officials said
Senior defence officials said a review panel appeared to favour an option dubbed "Go Long", the paper reported.
Other plans - "Go Big" and "Go Home" - were seen as less plausible, the officials said.
Two other reviews are under way, one by the White House, the other by a bipartisan panel of experts.
Continued violence in Iraq was a key factor in the Republican defeat in mid-term polls and US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's resignation.
On Monday, the US military said two more of its servicemen had died in Iraq - a marine who was killed in an attack in Anbar province and a soldier who died in a roadside bombing in south-eastern Baghdad.
The review panel's study, commissioned by Gen Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has all but rejected a massive scale-up of operations in Iraq, the unnamed officials told the Post.
More troops would be required to do this than the US military and fledgling Iraqi security forces could provide, they said.
But the Pentagon group had also concluded that a swift withdrawal of US troops would be likely to push the country into full-blown civil war, the sources said.
The officials said the panel was likely to favour a hybrid plan that cut the number of troops in combat roles while expanding US efforts to train and advise Iraqi security forces, the officials said.
Under the plan, an initial boost of 20,000 - 30,000 soldiers to the 140,000 already on the ground would be followed by longer term cuts, to as few as 60,000 troops, the newspaper reported.
Victory 'not possible'
The Pentagon panel's discussions come amid wide ranging discussions on the way forward for US strategy in Iraq.
On Sunday, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, said a clear military victory in Iraq was not possible and called for an international conference on the country's future.
"If you mean, by 'military victory,' an Iraqi government... that gets the civil war under control... in a time period that the political processes of the democracies will support, I don't believe that is possible," he told the BBC in an interview.
And Republican senator and 2008 presidential hopeful John McCain said more troops were needed in Iraq, and warned that failure in Iraq would have an impact on US security.
"It's not the end when American troops leave. The battleground shifts, and we'll be fighting them again," Mr McCain told ABC television.
The military panel's reported recommendations bear similarities to comments made last week by Gen John Abizaid, the top US commander for the Middle East.
He said he did not believe either raising or reducing US troop levels will help ease the conflict in Iraq.
But he said he was still optimistic the country could be stabilised and that he believed the US could "accelerate" the training of Iraqi forces to within the next year.
The Iraq Study Group, co-chaired by James Baker who served as secretary of state under President Bush Sr, is expected to issue its findings next month.
President George W Bush's National Security Adviser, Stephen Hadley, has confirmed that he is also carrying out a review of US policy in Iraq for the White House.