The top U.S. commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, and Ambassador Ryan Crocker faced a second day of tough questioning from lawmakers on Capitol Hill. A day after the officials testified at a House hearing, they appeared before two Senate committees Tuesday, to reiterate that the U.S. troop surge strategy is making progress and caution against a premature withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.
The appearance of General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker on Capitol Hill comes as Congress prepares to resume debate on Iraq as early next week.
Congressional Democrats, and some Republicans, who are frustrated with the slow progress being made toward political reconciliation by the Iraqi government, have called for setting a timeline to begin a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq as a way to press Iraqi leaders to make the necessary political compromises.
The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Democratic Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, underscored the point as General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker prepared to testify before the panel.
"Presenting those political leaders with a timetable for transition is the only hope that Iraqi leaders will realize that their future is in their hands, not in the hands of our brave men and women who proudly wear America's uniform," said Carl Levin.
But General Petraeus offered a different view.
"A premature drawdown of our forces would likely have devastating consequences," he said.
That assessment is shared by the top Republican on the committee, Senator John McCain of Arizona, who is seeking his party's nomination for president.
"We can be sure however that if the United States Congress succeeds in legislating a date for withdrawal and thus surrender, then we will fail for certain," said Senator McCain. "Make no mistake, consequences of American defeat in Iraq will be terrible and long lasting."
General Petraeus says violence has decreased in Iraq since an added 30,000 U.S. troops were deployed earlier this year. He says those additional troops could be home by the middle of next year, but said the rest of the 130,000 troops should remain.
President Bush has argued that the United States is fighting a necessary war in Iraq, saying America is fighting terrorists there so it doesn't have to fight them at home.
But General Petraeus said he is not sure whether the war is crucial to U.S. security in an exchange with Senator John Warner of Virginia, a respected Republican who recently endorsed the idea of setting a timetable to begin a U.S. troop withdrawal.
PETRAEUS: "I believe that this is indeed the best course of action to achieve our objectives in Iraq."
WARNER: "Does that make America safer?"
PETRAEUS: "Sir, I don't know, actually. I have not sat down and sorted it out in mind."
Later, Petraeus said the United States has substantial national interests in Iraq - from seeing that the country is stable and secure and not an al-Qaida sanctuary, to making sure it is not in the grip of an Iranian-supported Shi'a militia.
For his part, Ambassador Crocker says although the Iraqi government has not met most of the political, economic and military goals it set, it has made some progress. He urged congressional critics to be patient:
"I do believe Iraq's leaders have the will to tackle the country's pressing problems although it will take longer than we originally anticipated because of the environment and the gravity of the issues before them," he said.
President Bush, who met with congressional leaders at the White House to discuss Iraq Tuesday, is expected to endorse the recommendations of General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker in an address to the nation later this week.