The top US commander in Iraq said Wednesday it's unlikely he would seek a second troop buildup if security conditions sharply deteriorated after the ongoing surge ends in July. ( dpa )
"That would be a pretty remote thought in my mind," General David Petraeus said in the second day of congressional hearings on Iraq.
The troop surge ordered last year by President George W Bush to quell violence and sectarian killings has dramatically reduced bloodshed in Iraq. But there are concerns that violence could re-erupt after the extra forces depart.
Petraeus said that he would most likely shift US troops from locations within Iraq to deal with any outbreaks in violence, and that the Iraqi security forces are growing more capable of providing security.
"We do have an ability to move some forces around, obviously, and we would certainly want to do that, both Iraqi forces as well as our forces," he told the Armed Services Committee of the US House of Representatives.
After the surge ends, there will be about 140,000 US soldiers in Iraq. Petraeus has called for a 45-day pause in any further withdrawals once the surge ends, to allow for evaluation of the security situation including the needed US troop level.
The delay in further troop cuts has frustrated the opposition-controlled Congress, which wants to see a more rapid timeframe for reductions, to place pressure on the Iraqi government to take more responsibility for the country.
"The surge in forces in the counterinsurgency doctrine has led to reduced violence," said Ike Skelton, chairman of the committee. "And its purpose was to create political space for the Iraqis to move forward on reconciliation within its government and within its people. ... We know there's been some incremental progress, but there's not been this fundamental reconciliation."
Petraeus said he has begun looking at other areas where additional cuts can be made after the surge ends, but cautioned that those pullouts will only occur if the security situation remains stable.
"We're looking at four or five locations already that we have an eye on, looking to see if those (security) conditions can be met there," Petraeus said. "Again, we have a number of months and a number of substantial actions to take before then, but we are already identifying areas that we think are likely candidates for (further reductions)".
Petraeus and Ryan Crocker, the US ambassador to Iraq, appeared before the House Armed Services Committee for the second day of hearings, after testifying Tuesday in the US Senate. The two men were due to go before the House Foreign Affairs Committee later Wednesday.
Petraeus came under fire from Democratic senators who argue that he is proposing an "open-ended" strategy in Iraq with no end in sight for the US role in the conflict.
"It seems to me that what you've given to your chain of command is a plan which has no end to it," Carl Levin, chairman of Senate Armed Services Committee, told Petraeus.
Meanwhile, Bush met Wednesday with lawmakers to discuss Petraeus' testimony and outline his strategy for Iraq.
Bush, who has said he will follow Petraeus' advice, was expected to endorse the general's recommendation for a 45-day evaluation pause once last year's troop buildup ends in July. Bush has scheduled a speech Thursday at 11:30 am (1530 GMT).