Petraeus 'to urge Iraq troop cuts'

US commander in Iraq tells senate hearing he will recommend further reductions.

    General Petraeus did not specify in his testimony on Thursday how many troops would be withdrawn [EPA]



    "I do believe there will be certain assets that ... we'll be able to recommend can be either redeployed or not deployed to the theatre [combat zone] in the fall."
     
    Carl Levin, Democratic senator and chairman of the committee, responded that Petraeus's remarks were "good news to most of us".
     
    The committee is considering his nomination to lead US Central Command, responsible for US military operations in the Middle East, East Africa and Central Asia, after he leaves his current post in September.
     
    Troop 'surge'
     
    If confirmed, Petraeus would replace Navy Admiral William Fallon, who resigned in March following reports he disagreed with George Bush, the US president, over his policies towards Iran.
     
    Lieutenant-General Raymond Odierno, who has served as Petraeus's deputy for 15 months, will replace him as the senior US military officer in Iraq if confirmed at the same senate hearing.
     
    The US currently has about 155,000 troops in Iraq.
     
    However, that number is expected to fall to around 140,000 troops by July after the last six "surge" brigades are pulled out.
     

    Bush said any premature reduction of troops
    in Iraq would be 'catastrophic' [AFP]

    The US military began its troop "surge" in 2007, sending 30,000 additional troops to Iraq between February and June of that year in a bid to boost security in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad and the country's western Anbar province.
     
    During his confirmation hearing, Petraeus said that Iraqi security forces were unlikely to be able to take over security operations until next year, as hoped by the US department of defence.
     
    He was alluding to recent clashes in the southern city of Basra between Shia militias and Iraqi government forces.
     
    Petraeus also said provincial elections in Iraq are likely to be delayed by one month, taking place in November instead of October.
     
    Bush himself said in a speech at a US army barracks in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, on Thursday that any premature reduction of troop numbers in Iraq would be "catastrophic".
     
    "Withdrawal before success would send a signal to terrorists and extremists across the world that America is weak and does not have the stomach for a long fight," he said.
     
    Challenges ahead
     
    If confirmed, Petraeus faces some of America's most pressing challenges, including the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, ongoing tensions with Iran over its nuclear programme, political chaos in Lebanon and continued instability in the Horn of Africa and Somalia.
     
    He said that "engagement" would be a "central aspect" of his policy if confirmed.
     
    "In most of the issues we'll address, a purely military approach is unlikely to succeed and our strategy must recognise that," Petraeus said.

    He said one of his first trips as Centcom commander would be to Pakistan, whose new government recently forged a peace deal with the Taliban.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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