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Crocker, Petraeus Report 'Fragile' Progress in Iraq

In a second consecutive day of testimony at the U.S. Congress, the top American commander in Iraq and the U.S. ambassador reported progress on key security and political issues, but warned that the progress is fragile and maintaining it requires a continuing American commitment. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Washington.

The words "fragile" and "reversible" were again prominent in the testimony. The top coalition commander, General David Petraeus, said that is why he is not willing to promise any further withdrawals of U.S. forces after the last of the 20,000 surge troops end their tours of duty in July.

"It is, again, why the commanders on the ground, why I have recommended our reductions be conditions based," said General Petraeus. "As the ambassador and I both mentioned, there are enormous implications here for the safety and security of our own country with respect to al-Qaida, with respect to the spread of sectarian conflict, regional stability, Iranian influence and so forth."

On Tuesday, General Petraeus revealed that he has recommended a 45-day period of consolidation starting in July, followed by an assessment of whether more U.S. troops can withdraw. Analysts say that means there will likely be close to 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq through most of the rest of this year, including the period around the presidential election and the transition to a new administration.

General Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker spoke about significant progress by Iraqi security forces, and what the ambassador called sometimes "frustratingly-slow" political progress.

"One conclusion I draw from these signs of progress is that the strategy that began with the surge is working," Ambassador Crocker said. "This does not mean, however, that U.S. support should be open-ended or that the level and nature of our engagement should not diminish over time."

President Bush is scheduled to give his reaction to the Crocker and Petraeus reports on Thursday, including his decisions, based partly on their recommendations, on what U.S. policy will be toward Iraq in the coming months.