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US Lauds Progress in Iraq

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice praised top U.S. civilian and military leaders - Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and General David Petraeus - for helping to reduce violence and restore normal life to the country. General Petraeus has been assigned to lead the U.S. Central Command. His future role could change depending on who becomes the next U.S. president. Leta Hong Fincher has more.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Monday presented the department's Distinguished Service Award to the former top U.S. commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, and the U.S. ambassador to Baghdad, Ryan Crocker.

Rice praised them for helping to bring positive change to Iraq. "Sectarian violence has plummeted in Iraq, terrorist attacks are fewer and farther between, and displaced Iraqis are now returning to their homes," Rice said. "Al-Qaida in Iraq is being battered and broken, the Iraqi economy is springing back to life, the elected regime in Baghdad is growing more effective and expanding its sovereign writ."

Rice said Iraq is slowly returning to normal. She said the triumph of peace and freedom in Iraq will be a beacon of hope in the Middle East.

"Success in Iraq is not a sure thing, but we can now see a glimpse of what success will look like: an Iraq at peace with itself, secure in its region, with a democratic government that can defend itself and sustain itself, eventually without international support," Rice said.

General Petraeus has been named head of the U.S. Central Command. It oversees operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, including Afghanistan.

Republican presidential nominee John McCain credits Petraeus with turning around the war in Iraq by leading the 2007 surge in U.S. troops. McCain says as president he would give Petraeus flexibility in setting U.S. troop levels in Iraq.

But Democratic candidate Barack Obama says he would withdraw U.S. combat brigades within 16 months after becoming president.