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Published Aug. 1, 2007

The Navy admiral nominated to become chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told senators on Tuesday that U.S. military efforts in Iraq would fail unless Iraqi leaders did more to bridge sectarian divides. But he also warned that a rapid exit of U.S. troops could turn Iraq into a "cauldron" for broader Middle East strife.

The failure of the Iraqi government to make progress toward political unity imperils the future of Iraq, said the nominee, Adm. Michael Mullen, who said that unless things change, "no amount of troops in no amount of time will make much of a difference."

Mullen said he believed that the U.S. troop increase this year in Iraq has helped tamp down violence, saying security is "not great, but better." But he also said that the United States risked breaking the Army if the Pentagon decides to maintain escalated troop levels in Iraq beyond the spring of next year.

During testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Mullen and Gen. James Cartwright, the nominee to be vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs, were generally praised for giving candid answers about the security and political situation in Iraq.

The outgoing chairman, Gen. Peter Pace, has faced criticism from Congress for painting what lawmakers from both parties have described as an overly optimistic portrait of the situation in Iraq.

Mullen and Cartwright were nevertheless careful not to stray too far from assessments about Iraq given by other top administration officials, saying they would await a September progress report from military and civilian officials in Iraq before they could decide on the future of the additional troops in the country.

Mullen and Cartwright are expected to be swiftly confirmed by the Senate.