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US Commander Says 2008 Iraq Withdrawal Might Be Possible

The second ranking U.S. military commander in Iraq says it might be possible to implement the Iraq Study Group's call for the withdrawal of most U.S. combat forces from Iraq by early 2008. But in a news conference via satellite from Baghdad with reporters at the Pentagon, Lieutenant General Peter Chiarelli said Iraqi politicians have a lot of work to do first. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

General Chiarelli says it might be possible to implement the Iraq Study Group's recommendation, but only if there are important political developments.

He said, "I think that's possible if in fact we have interim steps that are agreed upon and with timelines that basically move us toward reconciliation."

General Chiarelli, who will end his second year-long tour of duty in Iraq next month, indicated it has been a frustrating year in the country.

"I happen to believe that we have done everything militarily that we possibly can," he said. "But I really believe the key to this conflict is to understand that it's going to take more than military action to solve the problems that face Iraq and to pull people together."

General Chiarelli was more positive about another of the Iraq Study Group's recommendations, a sharp increase in the number of U.S. troops living and working with Iraqi units.

"Having these larger embedded training teams, if that's the course of action that General Casey chooses, will be a real benefit to what we see, and a real benefit to the Iraqi army, but in addition to that to the Iraqi Police, and particularly the National Police," he said.

The second-ranking U.S. general in Iraq says it has been demonstrated that Iraqi units perform better when American trainers are with them.

General Chiarelli also cautioned against doing anything that could jeopardize the goal of establishing a stable, self-sufficient Iraq.

He said, "This mission is the most critical and significant that we've undertaken in perhaps 50 years."

"And failure, in my opinion, is not an option. I still believe the mission can succeed if the proper resources are brought to bear at the issues at hand," he continued.

General Chiarelli says those resources include civilian agencies of the U.S. government, which he says must be part of efforts to restore public services and convince Iraqis to support their government rather than insurgents or sectarian militias.

But critics have said it is difficult to send in foreign civilians until the security situation is under control.

General Chiarelli says next year will be crucial in determining whether both Iraq and the United States and its allies can take the right steps to salvage what he calls the "uncertain and tumultuous" state Iraq is in as he prepares to end his tour.