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8 Apr, 2008 23:34

U.S. General rules out Iraq withdrawal

The top US military leader in Iraq has urged Congress to suspend troop withdrawals until after July. General David Petreaeus says security in Iraq has improved, but the country remains in a fragile state and recent gains could be lost.

General David Petraeus looks and sounds confident: progress in Iraq has been made. And, he has the charts to prove it.

The troop surge has helped reduce violence but progress could be reversible Petraeus believes.

«'I recommended to my chain of command that we continue the draw-down of combat forces and that upon withdrawal of the last brigade combat team in July, we take a 45-day period of consolidation and evaluation,» he said.

A recommendation many Iraqis would disagree with. As the commander testified on Capital Hill, hundreds of Iraqi families fled their homes amid renewed violence.

Twenty five Iraqis were killed over the last weekend, when U.S.-led coalition forces and sectarian militia clashed south of Baghdad. Five more American soldiers died on Sunday.

And with the death toll continuing to rise, General Petraeus was confronted with the question: Is it all worth it?

“I do believe it is worth it,” he said.

But up to 80% of the American public disagrees.

With the race for the White House in full swing, the war in Iraq has emerged as one of the main topics on the campaign trail.

All three presidential candidates attended the hearings on Capitol Hill to pose their questions. They also had the opportunity to express their views on the issue.

Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama claim the surge has failed to yield political progress. They have repeatedly called for a gradual troop withdrawal.

But Republican John McCain has called such proposals “reckless” and a guarantee for more instability.

The war in Iraq has further widened the divide between Republicans and Democrats. They now face the difficult decision to stay the course and continue what has become a costly war or to withdraw and risk leaving more violence behind.