The military objectives of the US troop surge in Iraq "are largely being met", the top US military commander in Iraq, Gen David Petraeus, has said.
He told a Congressional panel that although improvements were "uneven", violence had declined significantly since the surge began in February.
In his testimony before the joint hearing by the House Armed Services and Foreign Affairs committees, Gen Petraeus said:
- "security incidents", including sectarian violence, had declined since the start of the surge
- he envisioned the withdrawal of some 30,000 US troops by the middle of 2008, beginning with 2,000 marines this September
- he expected a decision on further troop cuts next March
- the situation in Iraq remained "difficult"
An Iraqi poll reported by the BBC suggests about 70% of Iraqis believe security has deteriorated in the area covered by the US military "surge" of the past six months.
UPDATE September 11, 2007
The two leading US figures in Iraq are facing criticism at a hearing in Congress from Democratic presidential candidates opposed to the war.
Senators Joe Biden and Barack Obama told military commander David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker the troop build-up had failed to achieve peace.
Gen Petraeus and Mr Crocker have been testifying for a second day.
Both repeated their contention that the military "surge" in Iraq was working, and warned against a rapid withdrawal.
White House officials said President Bush would this week announce plans to reduce US troops in Iraq by about 30,000 by next summer - in line with the recommendations of Gen Petraeus and Mr Crocker.
The BBC's Justin Webb, in Washington, says the president's move is an attempt to seize the initiative and to give the impression - whether true or not - that he is driving events.