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US Commander in Iraq Says 2008 Goal is to Build on Progress

The top U.S. commander in Iraq - General David Petraeus - spelled out his goals for 2008 in an interview Sunday on American television. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports from Washington that General Pertraeus appears cautiously optimistic about the future.

General Petraeus says the U.S. military wants to build on its recent successes in Iraq during the coming year.

During an appearance from Baghdad on the FOX News Sunday television program, the general stressed the deployment of extra American troops in 2007 has led to a decrease in violence.

"As we go into the new year, we clearly want to build on the momentum that has been achieved by our forces working closely together with Iraqi forces," he said.

Petraeus noted the Iraqis have also been strengthening their military presence, and that more than 110,000 new Iraqi soldiers and police have joined the ranks in 2007.

The success of recent months has led some to call for an accelerated plan to draw down American troops in Iraq. When asked about the possibility of withdrawals in the year ahead, Petraeus - echoing remarks made recently by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates - emphasized any reduction must be based on conditions on the ground.

"Obviously, we want to reduce the strain on our ground forces as much as we can while recognizing that what has been achieved here remains tenuous and is still fragile in a number of areas," Petraeus said.

General Petraeus has spoken of troop reductions that could reduce the U.S. military presence to roughly pre-surge levels of 130,000 by July, 2008. When asked if the American presence could drop to as low as 100,000 by the end of next year, he said he would not be linked to any specific number.

"We are now just beginning the analysis that can help us determine the rate and the pace of possible reductions post-July," he said.

Petraeus is scheduled to report to Congress on conditions in Iraq in March.