By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
July 30, 2007 - The top U.S. commander in Iraq today acknowledged high expectations for a September assessment of the situation in Iraq and said he would work to keep politics out of the process. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, spoke to Diane Sawyer on ABC's "Good Morning America" program from his headquarters in Baghdad. He said that every time he gets a question about the assessment, "I feel another rock going into the rucksack, which is reasonably heavy at this point."
Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker will offer a comprehensive assessment of the status of Iraq during testimony before Congress in September. The general said it will be the ground truth. "We will be trying, frankly, to stay apolitical in this whole endeavor," he said.
By then, Petraeus and other military commanders may have offered recommendations through the chain of command to the president. "We will also offer our views of various implications of ways ahead that may be under discussion," he said.
Sustainable security in Iraq is the goal of the military effort in Iraq, Petraeus said. He said it will take until summer 2009 to establish the conditions for that concept to flourish.
This does not mean the number of U.S. troops will remain the same, he said. Petraeus is on record as saying that he will not ask for extensions for troops beyond current 15-month deployments. He and other senior leaders will work together to decide when they can reduce the number of American troops in Iraq "without surrendering the gains we have made," he said.
He said he and Army Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, commander of Multinational Corps Iraq, will work together to "determine at what point we can send forces home without replacements and also begin to transition tasks over time so we are doing more partnering and less leading."
Petraeus also said there will be a gradual drawdown of British forces in Iraq, contrary to reports that British forces will leave early. British forces are in command of Multinational Division Southeast and already have handed to provincial Iraqi control the provinces of Muthanna, Dhi Qar and Najaf. British forces are turning over more and more territory in Basra, the largest province in southeastern Iraq, to Iraqi control. "The plan over time is to draw down," Petraeus said.
In addition, the general addressed reported tension between him and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. He said stories about friction between Maliki and him are the product of "some political factions here who would like to throw sand in the gears of the relationship."
Petraeus said he meets with the prime minister several times a week, and he speaks with Maliki several times a day. "We have a relationship that includes good, frank and open discussions, and we don't always agree on everything," Petraeus said. "But we have the strength of a relationship that allows us to discuss those issues and to come to resolution on them. At times, politics trumps the military, and we accept that."