Petraeus says he'll call for more Iraq troop withdrawals

WASHINGTON — Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, told Congress Thursday he expects to announce further troop withdrawals this fall because the security situation there continues to improve.

"My sense is that I will be able to make a recommendation at that time for some further reductions," Petraeus said.

But he also described the Iraqi government as politically stalled, saying U.S. hopes to hold critical provincial elections likely will not happen Oct. 1, as planned. Instead, if the Iraqi government passes the required election law, the elections could be held in November.

That Iraq could be more secure and yet not hold elections in time highlights the complex situation there, where an improved Iraqi Army is serving a fragmented government. Petraeus said Iraq had the lowest number of incidents last week in nearly four years. Next week will likely be even lower.

Petraeus appeared alongside Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno before the Senate Armed Services committee for confirmation hearings. Petraeus is slated to be the new U.S. Central Command commander. President Bush nominated Odierno to replace Petraeus as the top commander in Iraq.

The hearing itself is largely perfunctory as both generals are expected to be confirmed. Instead, the hearing turned into a broad discussion about U.S. strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan, and how to deal with Iran and Syria, which the Bush administration has called threats to the region.

Petraeus last appeared before the committee six weeks ago to give his assessment of the security situation in Iraq. During that hearing, he said that after the five surge brigades left Iraq this summer, he would need a 45-day assessment period to determine further withdrawals.

But shortly after that hearing, Adm. William "Fox" Fallon abruptly resigned as the CENTCOM commander, and Bush nominated Petraeus. On Thursday, he promised a recommendation on troop reductions before he moves to his new post.