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Top US Officials in Iraq Face 2nd Day of Questions By Congress

The top U.S. military commander in Iraq, and the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad, face another day of questions from members of Congress Wednesday. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill where House of Representatives lawmakers will press them on their assessment of progress in Iraq and the need for an ongoing commitment of U.S. troops.

Testifying on Tuesday before the Senate armed services and foreign relations committees, Iraq commander General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker described progress in Iraq as fragile and reversible.

At the same time, both stressed progress in the form of increasing Iraqi opposition to al-Qaida, reductions in high profile attacks and deaths from ethno-sectarian violence, while underscoring the importance of continuing U.S. support.

Resisting attempts by lawmakers to press him to give any estimate of how long U.S. troops will be needed in large numbers in Iraq, General Petraeus asserted in this exchange with Senate Democrat Evan Bayh, that decisions on withdrawals must be based on conditions on the ground:

BAYH: Is it just impossible to offer any rough estimate?

PETRAEUS: Senator, if you believe as I do and the commanders on the ground believe that the way forward on the reduction should be conditions-based then it is just flat not responsible to try to put down a stake in the ground and say this is when it will be or that is when it will be, with respect."

Republican senators, such as Jon Cornyn of Texas, emerged from Tuesday's hearing voicing support for the strategy outlined by Petraeus and Crocker:

"They drew a path for us of success and one that eventually will allow us to bring our troops home, but one that would bring them home on success, making America a safer place in the process," he said.

General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker will face similar questions before the House foreign affairs and armed services committees.

While most Republicans continue to be generally supportive of and pleased with the results of the U.S. military surge, Democrats are skeptical and sharply critical of the Iraqi government.

Virginia Representative Jim Moran questions why the Iraqi government has not used more of its income from oil exports to support military operations and reconstruction:

"If we are going to pay their needs, and that is what we're doing, we are paying for military training all the way down to garbage pick up, with American taxpayers money, when they have got tens of billions of dollars that they would choose not to spend," he said.

Tennessee Republican Marsha Blackburn says Democrats want to sell out Iraq with an accelerated U.S. troop withdrawal: "Some in this House are so invested in the narrative of defeat, that they are blind to the results of a campaign that ranks among the greats in the history of our armed forces," he said.

On their second day of testimony, Petraeus and Crocker are likely to face more questions about U.S. - Iraq negotiations on a bilateral strategic framework agreement on military, political and economic cooperation.

Many Democrats maintain that President Bush wants little if any congressional involvement in shaping this accord.

Earlier this year, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, pledged transparency and consultation with Congress, while stressing that a future agreement would not commit U.S. forces to defend Iraq or authorize U.S. bases there.