Top US commander in Iraq calls for pause in troop cut-back

April 9th, 2008 - 12:07 am ICT by admin  

Washington, April 8 (DPA) The top US commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, warned Tuesday the progress that has been made by the increased American troop presence was “fragile” and recommended a 45-day pause in further withdrawals once the surge ends in July. “Though Iraq remains a violent country, we do see progress in the security arena,” Petraeus said at the opening of two days of congressional testimony to provide an update on the situation in Iraq along with US Ambassador Ryan Crocker.

Petraeus told the Senate Armed Services Committee that Iraq’s security forces were growing stronger but still needed assistance, and the improvement in stability relied on the ceasefire by Shia militias affiliated with radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

Petraeus also accused Iran of playing a “destructive” role in Iraq by arming and training Shia militias and warned that any premature withdrawals would allow Tehran to stoke violence. He also said Syria has not done enough to halt the slow of militants into Iraq across its borders.

Petraeus appeared before Congress more than a year after President George W. Bush ordered an additional 30,000 troops to Iraq, which expanded the US presence to 160,000. Bush has said he will follow the advice provided by his advisors on the ground in Iraq.

Petraeus said the 45-day period was needed to evaluate the security situation and said an assessment could take longer, prompting the majority Democrats to complain that the strategy offered no timeframe for a lasting draw down of US forces.

“That is a clear open ended pause,” Senator Carl Levin, the chairman of the committee, said.

Petraeus said the surge has “substantially” reduced civilian deaths and the sectarian violence that peaked in late 2006 and early 2007 and persuaded Bush to deploy the additional troops. He also said the Al Qaeda’s effort in Iraq along with other extremists have been “dealt serious blows”.

But the flare up in violence in recent weeks, namely because of fighting between Iraq forces and Shia militias in the southern Iraqi city of Basra and parts of Baghdad, shows “innumerable challenges remain”, Petraeus said.

“As events in the past two weeks have reminded us and as I have repeatedly cautioned, the progress made since last spring is fragile and reversible,” Petraeus said, adding the Al Qaeda remained a “major threat”.

Iraq Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in late March ordered an offensive against the Shia militias controlling Basra but the battle ended in a stalemate and al-Sadr ordered the militants to stop fighting.

The failure of the Iraqi forces to decisively prevail against the militants prompted concerns in Washington that they were still incapable of providing security without assistance from the Americans.

“It could have been much better planned,” Petraeus said of the assault.

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