The top U.S. military commander in Iraq says there is progress in Iraq, but political reconciliation is still necessary to bring together the various segments of Iraqi society.  VOA's Nazzy Beglari spoke to General David Petraeus just weeks before he is scheduled to give the U.S. Congress an update on the situation in Iraq.  VOA's Robert Raffaele has more.

General David Petraeus says the so-called "surge" of U.S. troops in Iraq has helped reduce violence across the country.

Petraeus also acknowledged that the outcome of Iraq's political and economic struggles is still unclear.

"Nothing is easy here. Progress is difficult to achieve and it is difficult to sustain and build on. There has been progress. We are intent on trying to build on it, to try to cement some of the gains, because so far, they are tenuous and fragile," he said.

General Petraeus said many key national political reconciliation issues still must be resolved for Iraq to move forward.

He applauded the recent decision by Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to extend a cease-fire by six months between his Mahdi Army militia and U.S. and Iraqi forces.

U.S. officials have said the cease-fire has been an important element in reducing violence in Iraq by 60 percent since June.

General Petraeus and the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, are scheduled to appear again before the U.S. Congress in April (8th and 9th) to give their latest assessment of the situation on the ground.