During an emotional hearing on Capitol Hill, Gen. David Petraeus, the nation's top military commander in Iraq, testified the U.S. may be able to withdraw roughly 30,000 U.S. troops from Iraq by next summer.
Petraeus, appearing before a joint session of the House Armed Services Committee and House Foreign Relations Committee on the future of the 4-year-old Iraq War, was joined by Ambassador Ryan Crocker, the top U.S. diplomat in Iraq.
Petraeus testified the President's troop escalation plan in Iraq had met its military objectives "in large measure."
"I believe that we will be able to reduce our forces to the pre-surge level ... by next summer without jeopardizing the security gains we have fought so hard to achieve," Petraeus said.
The general said a unit of 2,200 Marines and sailors from Camp LeJeune in North Carolina -- deployed as part of the President's troop escalation plan last winter-- would leave Iraq this month. Other surge units would follow, and be redeployed out of Iraq without replacement.
That would leave the United States with about 130,000 troops in Iraq by July 2008 -- roughly the same number of U.S. troops that were in Iraq before the President decided to dispatch additional forces.
Giving House members charts and graphs, Petraeus said there has been an overall decline in violence, though he concluded that the President's troop surge plan has made uneven military gains in Iraq.
"The level of security incidents has declined in eight of the past 12 weeks, with the level of incidents in the past two weeks the lowest since June of 2006," Petraeus said.
However, foreign and home-grown terrorists continue to roil the country, as does continuing sectarian violence, he said.
Petraeus said Iran and Syria and Iran continue to meddle in the nation.
During his testimony, Crocker said he "cannot guarantee success" in Iraq, but abandoning the country now would mean certain failure.
The ambassador said he was frustrated with the progress of the Iraqi government. But, he said, any significant shift away from the current strategy would embolden al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Citing progress in winning over Iraqis in the Anbar province of Iraq, Crocker said, al-Qaeda had "overplayed its hand" there.
"Anbaris began to reject its excesses, be they beheading school children or cutting off people's fingers for smoking," Crocker said.
During the hearing, the four-star general was heckled by anti-war protesters, including Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq.
"Tell the truth, general," they shouted. "Generals lie, children die!"
The frustrated chair of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., angrily called for the anti-war protesters to be forcibly taken out of the room.
"No disturbances will be tolerated," he said. "Out they go."
When Petraeus finished his testimony, more protesters stood up and shouted, "Pull out!"
The protesters were ejected from the committee room, with Skelton vowing they would be prosecuted.
One woman wearing a pink cardboard crown, screamed, "No, no, no!" resisting security guards who forcibly pulled her by the arms out of the room.