WASHINGTON (AP) – Thanksgiving’s hardly over, and the Postal Service is already advising people there’s little time to get those holiday season packages in the mail, particularly to members of the military stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Next Monday is the mailing deadline for assuring that packages to troops in those two countries will arrive before Christmas. Military mail headed to other overseas points should be sent by Dec. 11, the Postal Service said Tuesday.

People mailing packages within the U.S. have more time to gather their presents and prepare their holiday cards.

The Postal Service’s suggested deadline for sending domestic packages via parcel post is Dec. 13. For parcels sent first class, the deadline is Dec. 18. Customers should ship Priority Mail by Dec. 20 and switch to Express Mail by Dec. 22 and Dec. 23.

“I would encourage people to mail earlier. That way that gives you a chance for somebody to send you a card back,” said Pat Donahoe, deputy postmaster general and chief operating officer. “But if you get them in on those days, we’ll get them delivered.”

The Postal Service expects to deliver 20 billion letters, packages and cards between Thanksgiving and Christmas, similar to last year’s shipping season.

On average, workers will process 670 million items per day. Mailings are projected to reach 900 million on the peak mailing day, Dec. 18. The busiest delivery day is expected to come two days later.

To ensure that presents arrive intact, Donahoe advised using sturdy packages that allow room for cushioning. Batteries should be removed from mailed gifts. To avoid lines at the post office, people can request a free package pickup, purchase stamps and hold mail by visiting http://www.usps.com.

Other suggested mailing deadlines for Christmas delivery are:

– Global Airmail parcels, cards and letters: Dec. 4 for Africa, Central and South America; Dec. 11 for other foreign destinations.

– Global Priority Mail: Dec. 4 for Central and South America; Dec. 6 for Africa; and Dec. 13 for other foreign destinations.

– Global Express Mail: Dec. 11, Africa, Central and South America; Dec. 15, for Asia-Pacific Rim countries, Australia, New Zealand, the Caribbean, Mexico, Europe and the Middle East; Dec. 16 for Canada.

– Global Express Mail Guaranteed: Dec. 19, all foreign destinations except Canada; Dec. 20 for Canada.

On the Net:

U.S. Postal Service: http://www.usps.com/holiday

AP-ES-11-28-06 1649EST

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