Lawmakers have pressed the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker, about the duration of the U.S. military presence in Iraq, and political progress by the Iraqi government. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill, where the two men faced a second day of questions, this time before House of Representatives committees.
Petraeus and Crocker essentially repeated lengthy statements they delivered Tuesday to U.S. Senate committees.
Each was pressed for answers about the future U.S. commitment to Iraq, capabilities of Iraqi forces, as well as strains on the military and the U.S. economy.
Armed services chairman Ike Skelton referred to the economic strains for the United States from the war, saying Americans are asking this question. "Under these circumstances, and with the strategic risk to our nation and our military readiness, we and the American people must ask why should we stay in Iraq in large numbers?," he said.
Petraeus and Crocker again called U.S. and Iraqi gains fragile and reversible, while describing al-Qaida in Iraq as in retreat but not yet defeated. Both listed points of progress on the political front, adding that much more needs to be done.
Petraeus has recommended a 45-day evaluation period after the last of 20,000 U.S. military surge forces leaves Iraq at the end of July, which would leave about 140,000 U.S. troops in the country.
Saying he could foresee further reductions below the pre-surge 15 combat brigade level, if the right conditions existed, he responded this way when Democrat Silvestre Reyes asked about the possibility of another U.S. military surge:
REYES: "If at any point in that 45 day pause, security deteriorates what does that mean, what contingency plans to do we have. Will you re-instate the surge?
PETRAEUS: That would be a pretty remote thought in my mind for a variety of different reasons. One is the strategic considerations I have explained, the other is we do have an ability to move some forces around obviously and we certainly would want to do that, both Iraqi forces as well as our forces."
In a separate hearing, a top military official, Army Vice Chief of Staff General Richard Cody, repeated his assessment of the strains on U.S. troops: "We are the most battle-hardened, best-equipped, best-led and best-trained force for the counter-insurgency fight that we now face. But we are also unprepared for the full spectrum fight and lack the strategic depth that has been our traditional fall-back for the uncertainties of this world," he said.
Testimony by General Cody has been widely-quoted on Capitol Hill, with Democrats citing it to underscore their position that the war in Iraq is weakening U.S. security.
While pointing to security gains from the military surge in Iraq, Republicans nonetheless voiced concerns about Iraqi government failures to make more political progress.
California Congressman Duncan Hunter rejected assertions voiced by some that General Petraeus appeared to be signaling in two days of testimony an open-ended U.S. commitment in Iraq.
"What it shows is that you [have] a General who analyzes things and is a good thinker and has judgment. Congress is constantly trying to extract deadlines from a person who tells you that warfare doesn't lend itself to deadlines," he said.
Lawmakers also pressed for further information about Iranian actions in Iraq, which General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker have said continue to contribute to instability.
Crocker told members of the House foreign affairs panel that trilateral meetings involving Iraqi government, U.S. and Iranian representatives have accomplished noting in the way of concrete results.