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Petraeus, Crocker try to buy time for US efforts in Iraq

Their mostly upbeat testimony probably gives Bush some political space, but the reports aren't likely to result in broad political consensus.

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The report from Gen. David Petraeus, the US commander in Iraq, was not all good, but for him, progress in reducing violence in the months of the "surge" warrants keeping higher numbers of US troops there and following the current strategy until summer 2008.

Ryan Crocker, the US ambassador to Iraq, had the tougher task of convincing a dubious Congress and nation that the Iraqi government is capable of achieving the political progress the surge was designed to facilitate. He gave a bureaucratic and colorless assessment of Iraqi political capabilities – and may have advanced the case of those who want to see a new course.

The two officials, bookends of the US military-political strategy in Iraq, came to Congress Monday for the first of two days of testimony to buy more time for the US engagement in Iraq. With no sign of the Republican exodus from President Bush's Iraq policy that Democrats anticipated earlier this summer, the likelihood now seems good they'll be able to make the purchase.

General Petraeus, armed with stacks of charts and maps on the impact of the surge, said in Monday afternoon testimony that he would recommend withdrawing one Army brigade – about 4,000 troops – in December, to be followed by a further partial drawdown that would return US troop numbers in Iraq to 130,000 by July 2008. That's about where US force numbers stood when Mr. Bush announced the troop-buildup strategy in January. Petraeus also recommended that Bush wait until March of next year to make decisions about force levels for later in 2008.

The essentially upbeat testimony and prospects for some drawdown of troops probably gives Bush the political space he needs to avoid a battle with Congress over Iraq, while leaving to the next president decisions on long-term Iraq policy. But that doesn't mean this week's reports are likely to result in broad political consensus.

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