By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 11, 2007 - The troop surge in Iraq is helping reduce violence and has put al Qaeda "off balance," but a premature withdrawal of troops could enable terrorists to regain their losses, the top military commander in Iraq said last night on Fox News Channel. "Al Qaeda is still the element in Iraq that carries out the most significant attacks (and) causes the most casualties" while feeding violence between Iraq's factions, said Army Gen. David H. Petreaus, commander of Multinational Force Iraq. "There's still work to be done, although the reduction (in violence) is substantial."
Petraeus noted that sectarian violence over the past two weeks is at its lowest point since June 2006.
The general reiterated points made earlier yesterday during six hours of testimony before the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees. He will testify today, again with U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan C. Crocker, during separate hearings before the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees.
Petraeus told Fox News last night that although progress in Iraq is evident, it's taking place unevenly, and not as quickly as hoped.
He said that he had recommended a gradual drawdown of surge troops in Iraq beginning next month, but said it's too soon to consider timetables for larger-scale redeployments.
Both Petraeus and Crocker said they believe in the mission in Iraq and have faith it can succeed.
Petraeus expressed confidence in the way Iraqi security forces are shouldering increasing responsibility and in the fact that tribal leaders and sheiks are starting to work with them and U.S. forces to counter al Qaeda.
Defeating al Qaeda in Iraq will have "tremendous payoff," he said, particularly because the al Qaeda organization considers Iraq its central front. Should the coalition fail it would be "a huge lift" and "shot of adrenaline" for al Qaeda, he said.
Crocker called progress in the war pivotal to establishing stability in Iraq that will extend far beyond its borders. "I think we have a prospect now of helping bring into being an Iraq that is ... a source of stability and security in the region. And I think that's important," he said.