'Hugely Important That We Help Iraq Get It Right'

Gen. David Petraeus says he shares the "frustration" many Americans feel about the state of progress in Iraq, while reiterating how crucial the conflict is to U.S. safety.

Petraeus talked with ABC's Charles Gibson one day after the top military commander in Iraq testified to Congress about his Iraq progress report.

"I get very frustrated and I think I've been open and honest about that, even on Capitol Hill," Petraeus said. "I don't think any of us wanted to be where we are right now, given where we were at other points along the way … only to see some of that really undone, again, by this horrific escalation of ethno-sectarian violence."

Watch the interview tonight on "World News with Charles Gibson" at 6:30 EDT.

Despite those frustrations, he maintains the need to stay in Iraq for America's safety, something that came into question Tuesday when Sen. John Warner, R-Va., asked whether Iraq was making the United States safer. Petraeus said, "Sir, I don't know."

Petraeus told Gibson his answer reflected his stature in the military.

"My response yesterday was actually following a series of questions where I was trying hard to stay the MNF-I commander, if you will, not to try to be the overall commander in the global war on terror, or to talk about what we should do beyond the borders of Iraq," he said.

He reiterated he believes success in Iraq is critical for both U.S. safety and international stability. "This is an enormously important mission. There are huge national interests involved, and that's the basis of my feeling in that respect," Petraeus said.

Political Progress Dashed by Violence

Petraeus' long-awaited testimony on Capitol Hill included a recommendation for a drawdown of 30,000 troops by next summer to bring the number of soldiers in Iraq to pre-troop surge levels.

The military presence is intended to help the Iraqis make political progress, yet Petraeus agreed that has yet to happen. "We have endeavored to give a window of opportunity and the Iraqis have not taken advantage of that the way we had hoped," he said.

He said he has witnessed the challenges to political progress as the violence persists.

"When you're in a meeting with senior Iraqi officials and a massive car bomb has gone off … their mind is not on legislation; it is on the repercussions, the how to take care of that, how to respond to that kind of disaster. When they're getting phone calls all day long about what is happening in this neighborhood or that neighborhood, that dominates the conversation," he said.

"I've literally had meetings where there was an agenda on a host of very important topics and you don't get to any of the topics because the entire conversation is preempted by discussions about what took place, where a market was blown up or a neighborhood is suffering from sectarian violence," Petraeus said.

He said while political progress is slow, some issues are being resolved outside of the legislative process, as with the issue of oil revenue sharing.

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