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Defending the "surge" of U.S. troops in Iraq and insisting that a stable and democratic society there was still within reach, the top two U.S. officials in the war zone ended their second contentious day of testimony on Capitol Hill Tuesday.

In a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, senators pressed Ambassador Ryan Crocker and Gen. David Petraeus for a measurable sign of success that would enable a pullout of U.S. troops from Iraq to begin.

Petraeus said he "would be very hard-pressed to recommend" continuing the so-called troop surge beyond March if conditions in Iraq had not changed from what they are now.

But he told lawmakers that Iraqi security forces are improving and are able to "shoulder more of the load, albeit slowly" amid continuing concerns about sectarian elements within their ranks.

"Overall, our tactical commanders see improvement in the security environment," Petraeus said, repeating assertions about the decline of violence during the surge. Read full article »

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