- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 23, 2007

1:57 p.m.

The Army general who would carry out President Bush’s new war plan urged a skeptical Congress and American public today to be patient but acknowledged that “the situation in Iraq is dire.”

“None of this will be rapid,” Lt. Gen. David Petraeus told the Senate Armed Services Committee. “The way ahead will be neither quick nor easy.”

Many in Congress, including some Republicans, oppose Mr. Bush’s plan to send an extra 21,500 U.S. troops to Iraq as part of a revised strategy for quelling sectarian violence in Baghdad and stabilizing the country.

Mr. Bush nominated Gen. Petraeus to replace Army Gen. George Casey as the senior American commander in Iraq. Gen. Petraeus is considered a shoo-in to win Senate confirmation as commander of Multinational Forces-Iraq, but senators used his appearance today before the panel to question him on how Mr. Bush’s new strategy would work.

Sen. Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat and the committee chairman, pressed Gen. Petraeus on whether the flow of additional U.S. troops could be halted in midstream if the Iraqi government fails to meet its commitment to provide thousands more Iraqi troops.

“It could,” Gen. Petraeus said. Earlier he said there were no “specific conditions” the Iraqis must meet in order to keep the flow of U.S. forces moving. The last of five additional U.S. brigades are scheduled to arrive in the Iraqi capital in May; the first got there just days ago.

Gen. Petraeus said that in the event the Iraqis did not meet their commitments, he would consult with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on how to respond.

He said he would not have accepted the nomination to take command in Baghdad if he did not think Mr. Bush’s plan could achieve its goals.

In his opening statement, Gen. Petraeus, 54, painted a grim picture of conditions in Iraq.

“The situation in Iraq is dire. The stakes are high. There are no easy choices. The way ahead will be very hard. … But hard is not hopeless,” he said.

Gen. Petraeus is a former division commander and once was the head of the Iraqi training mission. Devoted early in the war to trying to win the hearts and minds of Iraqis, Gen. Petraeus later wrote the Pentagon manual on how to tackle insurgencies. He also previously supported expanding U.S. forces in the region.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and a leading proponent of Mr. Bush’s troop buildup plan, asked Gen. Petraeus how long he thought the U.S. buildup could be sustained.

“I am keenly aware of the strain” on the Army and Marine Corps, Gen. Petraeus said, adding that he welcomes Mr. Bush’s proposal to increase the size of the land forces over the coming five years.

Asked by Mr. McCain how soon he thought he would know whether the new strategy was working, Gen. Petraeus said, “We would have indicators at the least during the late summer.”

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, asked how long the extra troops would remain in Iraq.

“I don’t know what the time limitation is,” Gen. Petraeus replied, adding that it would be reasonable to give the Iraqi government more time to gain its political footing and to make the tough decisions needed to quell sectarian violence.

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