Petraeus Says British Not Planning Early Withdrawal

Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, has six weeks to show he is making progress in Iraq and getting the chaos under control.

On Sept. 15 Petraeus, the commander of the Multi-National Force-Iraq, will deliver a report to Congress on whether the new troop surge strategy is accomplishing its goals.

In an interview on "Good Morning America" today, Petraeus said he believes it will take until summer 2009 to attain sustainable security in Iraq.

Some reports speculated he had a detailed plan, but he said he was unprepared to unveil any such plan just yet. But according to Petraeus, the Iraqis have made progress.

"In a number of areas of Iraq, Iraqi forces are very much in charge, and in charge, and in some cases they have withstood serious challenges from extremists or al Qaeda and their affiliates," he said.

Even with his claims of progress, whispers over the weekend claimed Britain may be talking about withdrawing its troops. Petraeus said he does not believe Britain will withdraw its 5,500 troops early, despite Sunday reports that said the country was talking about doing so.

Petraeus said that despite reports the U.S. military is considering an even bigger troop buildup in addition to the 30,000 troops that have been added this year as part of President Bush's "surge" strategy, there are plans to slowly withdraw U.S. troops.

"There is a plan, over time, to gradually draw down," he said. "In fact, they have done a bit of it in recent months — handing off several facilities in Basra to the Iraqi security forces — and there is a plan to do a bit more of that in the months ahead."

You can catch more of GMA's exclusive interview with Petraeus Tuesday morning.

The general had said in previous interviews that the reduction could be carried out over time without undermining the mission, causing some to believe he might be considering an extension in the troop surge. He said today that an extension beyond 15 months is unlikely.

"We know that the surge has to come to an end," he said. "The Army and the Marine Corps, it's well announced that at some point that will end. We're on the record telling our soldiers that we will not ask for any extension certainly beyond 15 months."

Petraeus said that as the number of troops in the region begins to come down, he and his team want to withdraw troops without surrendering any gains they've made in Iraq.

"We are trying to stay apolitical in this whole endeavor and we will lay out what the situation is at the time," he said. "I may have by that point in time offered recommendations to the president and we will also offer our views on the implications of various ways ahead that may be under discussion."

Relations With Iraqi Prime Minister

Rumors about a tense relationship with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Kamel al-Maliki have plagued the commander, including talk that al-Maliki became so angry at the strategy being pursued that he asked that Petraeus be replaced. Petraeus said the rumors are untrue.

"That there are some political factions that would like to throw sand in the gears of our relationship," he said. "I communicate to him several times a day, meet with him several times a week, generally with the ambassador as well. We have a relationship which includes good, frank and open conversation. We don't always agree, but we certainly have the strength of a relationship that allows us to discuss those issues and come to resolution on them. And at times politics trumps the military, and we accept that."

But the relationship with the prime minister is not the only thing making news. Some question whether the Saudis are doing enough to control the Saudi Arabia-Iraq border, amid reports many foreign fighters are coming from that area.

"I'm not sure that they're coming across the Saudi border," Petraeus said. "I think what we have found is that it is Saudi citizens and citizens from North Africa and in the region who are coming through Syria."

In the past, the commander has been critical of Syria for allowing foreign fighters to come through its borders. But this morning he cited a recent incident displaying the evolving partnership between the two countries.

The Syrians captured a young Saudi man, who decided at the last minute not to go through with his suicide bomb.

Many of the foreigners used to come through the airport, but Syria actually may be tightening up its borders, Petraeus said.

"We hope that's the case," he added. "We would applaud it if it is and hope that they would increasingly do more to limit this flow."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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