While the critics have cited the lagging progress of the Iraqi government and the reduced but still substantial violence as reasons to abandon the current strategy, Petraeus acknowledges these factors in making his case for more time. Still, Petraeus is expected to disclose plans to reduce troop levels in mid-December with the withdrawal of a combat brigade. American military officials said the unit was deployed to Iraq before Bush’s troop reinforcement plan and the troop reduction would be accomplished by not replacing it. The decision to start the reduction before the end of the year follows an appeal by Sen. John W. Warner of Virginia, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, that the Bush administration take the first steps toward a limited drawdown of troops by year’s end as a way of signaling to Prime Minister Nouri Kamal al-Maliki that the American commitment to Iraq is not open-ended. Reducing the force to 15 combat brigades by July or August would require some repositioning of American forces in Iraq – what the military calls “battlefield geometry.” The intent is to keep substantial forces in and around Baghdad. But American forces are expected to be reduced in northern and western Iraq. Even as American commanders plan to reduce the overall force, they have stressed that the troop reductions could be adjusted or delayed if violence increases. Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the second-ranking American commander in Iraq, said one important factor being weighed is whether attacks increase during the approaching Muslim holy month of Ramadan, as has happened in the past. “Ramadan is big,” Odierno said last week. “So far in the 30 days before Ramadan, violence has been going down.” “I think if we can continue to do what we are doing, we’ll get to such a level where we think we can do it with less troops,” Odierno added. Some Pentagon officials would like to see the force in Iraq cut below 15 brigades to reduce the stress on the military and make it possible for soldiers and Marines to serve shorter tours. But some military officers in Iraq say that establishing a schedule at this point for reducing forces below 15 brigades is difficult because the Iraq situation is in flux. While sectarian attacks are down according to military statistics, the gains are potentially reversible and the level of violence is still high. The level of insurgent and militia activity in coming months is difficult to predict. Nor is it clear whether the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government will embrace the Americans’ new effort to work with Sunni tribal groups, and how much such alliances might help quell the violence. Efforts at political reconciliation have been stymied at the national level, but American officials still hope to see some modest progress. The broader issue is whether political reconciliation is possible. Gen. George W. Casey, the chief of staff of the Army and Petraeus’ predecessor, recently said at a breakfast sponsored by Government Executive magazine that the American reinforcements had produced “a temporary tactical effect” and expressed skepticism that Iraqi leaders would overcome differences, the publication reported.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! Petraeus is to begin two days of hearings today, along with Ryan C. Crocker, the American ambassador to Iraq. The commander is expected to present a series of military statistics that indicate that some headway has been made toward reducing violence in Baghdad. A White House official said that Bush and Petraeus had not spoken since they saw each other in Anbar Province last Monday. But Petraeus’ recommendations on how to proceed on reducing the force have been outlined to Bush and senior officers. “General Petraeus has made recommendations on the pace by which the surge forces can run their course, and he will explain to Congress his recommendation on when the withdrawals without replacement can begin, based on certain assumptions about the situation on the ground,” said an officer, who has heard the commander’s recommendations. “He has also argued that recommendations on reductions below the presurge force levels would be premature at this time, and that recommendations on such adjustments should wait until March 2008,” the officer added. Bush has said that he intends to address the nation this week about the recommendations by Petraeus and Crocker. From the start, Petraeus, more so than many lawmakers, has viewed the effort to bring security to Iraq as a long-term effort. The classified campaign plan he prepared with Crocker calls for restoring security in local areas, including Baghdad, by the summer of 2008. “Sustainable security” is to be established nationwide by the summer of 2009. A letter the general wrote to his troops on Sept. 7 outlines some of the arguments he is expected to use before Congress. The general conceded that the hope that Iraqi leaders would take advantage of the American military’s effort to tamp down violence to make political headway “has not worked out as we had hoped.” But he asserted that American forces had achieved “tactical momentum,” and stressed that American troops are forging successful alliances with local Sunni tribal leaders. WASHINGTON – The top American commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, has recommended that decisions on the contentious issue of reducing the main body of the American troops in Iraq be put off for six months, American officials said on Sunday. Petraeus, whose long-awaited testimony before Congress will begin today, has informed President George W. Bush that troop cuts may begin in mid-December, with the withdrawal of an American combat brigade, about 4,000 troops. By mid-July, the American force in Iraq might be down to 15 combat brigades, the force level in Iraq before Bush’s troop reinforcement plan. The precise timing of such reductions, which would leave about 130,000 troops in Iraq, would depend on conditions in the country. But the general has also said that it is too soon to present recommendations on reducing American forces below that level and has suggested that he wait until March to outline proposals on this question. Many Democratic lawmakers have demanded deep troop cuts as well as a timetable for making the reductions, and there has been concern within some quarters of the Pentagon about the stress of repeated deployments. The effect of Petraeus’ recommendations would be to begin troop reductions somewhat earlier than many experts had anticipated, while deferring deliberations on more fundamental troop issues. In effect, the much-awaited September debate in Congress over Iraq would become a prelude for another set of potentially difficult deliberations next year.