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Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, agreed at his confirmation hearing to a senator’s statement that it would be wise to keep troops in Iraq next year.

“I don’t know the number, Senator, but it would be a number where we could provide the capability that they would request, that we would be able to protect ourselves, and it would have to meet both of our nations’ mutual interests,” he said.

Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the Army chief of staff who commanded U.S. forces in Iraq, also told senators that Iraq needed a continued U.S. aviation presence to protect its airspace. But he later told reporters that Iraqi security was as good as it had ever been.

Since the surge began in 2007, the average number of daily attacks in Iraq dropped to 14 from a high of 145, according to the command.

‘Big win’ for Iran

Iran has been providing weapons, including rockets and explosives, to Shiite extremists to kill Iraqi and U.S. troops. Iran also trains Iraqi insurgents inside Iran. It also aids Muqtada al-Sadr, the firebrand Shiite cleric who wants Iraq to become a hard-line Islamic state.

“Strategically, it’s obvious. This is a big win for Tehran,” Gen. Kimmitt said.

“I believe there is a lot of concern [in Gulf Arab states]. We have said one of reasons for keeping American forces in Iraq was to continue a very strong signal to Iran to draw a line between Persian Iran and the rest of the region.

“The Iraqis themselves have to make a decision whether they want to lean toward the West or lean toward the East. Iran has a very aggressive program inside Iraq to spread their influence.”

He said Iran, which now aids Syria, and the terrorist groups Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, would love to have a pathway through Iraq to increase its influence among those groups.

“Removing U.S. troops only enables that,” Gen. Kimmitt said.

Gen. Keane added, “We’re losing the peace because the No. 1 strategic enemy we have in the region is Iran. And as a result of us pulling away from Iraq, we’re losing our influence in Iraq. And the Iranians are gaining influence in Iraq. And that strategically should be unacceptable to us.”

Col. Barry Johnson, a military spokesman in Baghdad, told The Times, “I see no point in responding to the opinions of retired military officers and analysts.

“Our job is to turn national policy into action, and we are now in full stride to honor our commitment under the security agreement with Iraq to reposture our forces prior to the end of the year.”

The United States wants to maintain a strong diplomatic stance in Iraq and will do some military training with civilian contractors.

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