The top coalition commander in Iraq and the U.S. ambassador will testify to four congressional committees in Washington Tuesday and Wednesday to give an update on the security and political situations, and offer their expectations for the next six months. VOA Pentagon Correspondent Al Pessin reports on what they are expected to say.
General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker will likely report significant progress by Iraq's security forces and government since their last testimony in September. But they are also expected to say the progress is fragile, and that more time is needed with a substantial number of U.S. troops in place to continue trying to move Iraq toward stability.
General Petraeus is not expected to stray far from a theme he used in September.
"I also believe that it is possible to achieve our objectives in Iraq over time, although doing so will be neither quick nor easy," he said.
Senior officials and military officers say they expect General Petraeus to endorse ending the surge of U.S. forces by July, as planned, as long as there are no serious setbacks in the security situation between now and then. That will leave about 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq.
But beyond July, officials say there will be a 'pause' in U.S. drawdowns while they wait for a further assessment from the general about whether more troops can come home without risking the gains that have been made. President Bush told General Petraeus he can slow down the surge withdrawal if he needs to, and in a speech marking the fifth anniversary of the war last month, the president indicated he is in no hurry to resume withdrawals after the pause.
"We've learned through hard experience what happens when we pull our forces back too fast," said President Bush. "The terrorists and extremists step in. They fill vacuums, establish safe havens and use them to spread chaos and carnage. General Petraeus has warned that too fast a drawdown could result in such an unraveling."
No one can say how long the pause will be.
The top U.S. military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen was asked about that last week.
"I think it's going to be up to the judgment of the commander on the ground, that he either moves ahead with further reductions in troops or he can't do that," he said. "And to say it's precisely this particular date, we just haven't done that. We just don't see that kind of precision at this point."
Some officials have spoken of a withdrawal pause of a month or two, and they warn not to expect huge withdrawals even after that. Analyst Michele Flournoy of the Center for a New American Security recently returned from several weeks in Iraq.
"I don't have a sense of that," he said. "I think that there's certainly a number of people who would like to see some continuation of the drawdown if it's possible without creating instability. I have not heard specific numbers. I think it would be a small number, as opposed to a large number."
General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker are not expected to offer any numbers at their hearings this week. White House Spokesman Tony Fratto says when they're finished, President Bush will offer his thoughts, but no numbers are expected from him either.
"General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker will have an opportunity to testify over the next two days," said Fratto. "We want to hear their testimony and how the dialogue goes with members of Congress in those hearings. And then I think on Thursday you'll have a chance to hear some remarks from the president on how it went and how he sees things in Iraq right now and his views on going forward from there."
The Petraeus-Crocker testimony is becoming a semi-annual tradition in Washington. The two men, or their successors, will likely testify again in September, in the midst of the pause, to offer a more specific idea of what lies ahead in Iraq for the rest of the year, and what the new president will inherit in January.