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Lawmakers Grill Petraeus, Crocker

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

For more on the Senate testimony, we go now to NPR's Pentagon correspondent, Tom Bowman.

Hello, Tom.

TOM BOWMAN: Hello there.

NORRIS: Now, we heard a lot of talk today about how long U.S. troops should be in Iraq. Do we get a better sense of General Petraeus' thinking about a timetable?

BOWMAN: Well, we know that he'll continue to draw down to the so-called surge troops. That's the added 30,000 troops into July. Now, that will still leave about 140,000 troops. Then they'll have a 45-day pause so they can reassess. And then he said after that, when recommendations will come, it could be, shortly thereafter, it could be weeks if not months. So, the bottom line is you could have 140,000 troops there toward the end of the year. And that's more troops than the U.S. had when it went into Iraq into 2003.

NORRIS: General Petraeus is once again going to the Senate and asking for patience. He did say that Iraqi forces have improved. Did he elaborate much on that?

BOWMAN: A little bit. He said Iraqi forces are getting better by the day. You know, tens of thousands more are coming online, but they still need more experienced junior officers and sergeants. They need more equipment. It will just take some time. And American officers have said for quite some time that it will take anywhere from, let's say, 2009 to 2012 before Iraqis can really handle any internal threats.

NORRIS: Now, what about political progress? Did the general and Ambassador Ryan Crocker have anything to say about that?

BOWMAN: Well, they have said there's some political progress. For example, the Iraqi government has reformed de-Baathification laws. Many more low-level Baathists could come back into the government, but a lot of that depends on how it's implemented. Also, there are plans to hold elections by October 1st; that would allow, for example, more Sunnis to come into the government, and the Sunnis sat out the last election.

But, you know, Crocker said overall, there is a potential — and that's the word he used — potential for Iraq to develop into what he called a stable, multiethnic state, and whether that happens, he said, is really up to the Iraqi people.

NORRIS: Iran's role in Iraq is a subject that has stirred quite a bit of debate here in Washington. Did Iran come up much throughout the testimony today?

BOWMAN: You know, it did quite a bit. And a lot of what we heard was murky. The two men, for example, said that Iran continues to train and equip these so-called special groups of the Mahdi army. These are breakaway groups of the army controlled by cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. And the special groups, they say, for example, use highly lethal roadside bombs against Americans. But it's interesting. They also said - there were reports that Iran helped broker the cease-fire by the Mahdi army in Basra recently. And they also said under questioning that Iran has a dialog with all Shiite groups throughout the country.

And of course, Shiites are the largest group in the country, about 60 percent of the population.

NORRIS: That was NPR's Pentagon correspondent, Tom Bowman. Thanks so much, Tom.

BOWMAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Tom Bowman is a NPR National Desk reporter covering the Pentagon.