Crocker and Petraeus will report to Congress next week on progress since Bush dispatched 30,000 extra troops to Iraq to curb sectarian warfare. Petraeus is expected to point to a dramatic decline in violence in Anbar province thanks to a grass-roots revolt against al-Qaida. On Tuesday, an al-Qaida front group announced on a Web site that it was forming suicide battalions to strike at Americans and their local allies. “These battalions, with God’s help, will perform their duties in an excellent manner during the month of Ramadan, and the enemies of God will suffer a lot,” the statement said. Ramadan will begin in about two weeks. Odierno said U.S. forces were alert to the possibility of increased attacks during Ramadan but in the run-up to the holy month “violence has been going down.” The optimistic tone appears aimed at persuading moderate Republicans in Congress to stand by the president. BAGHDAD – The No. 2 U.S. commander in Iraq said Tuesday that the next three to four months will be crucial in determining whether the United States can start to withdraw troops from Iraq without sacrificing security gains since the troop buildup began early this year. Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno said the number of attacks in August fell to their lowest level in more than a year, although he gave no figures. Odierno insisted that overall violence was declining in a sign that the buildup ordered by President George W. Bush was working. “I think the next three to four months are critical,” Odierno told reporters. “I think that 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.” Bush himself raised the possibility of a reduction in the 160,000-strong U.S. force during his surprise visit Monday to al-Asad Air Base in Anbar province, where Sunni Arab sheiks have been turning against al-Qaida in Iraq. Bush said U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and the top commander Gen. David Petraeus “tell me if the kind of success we are now seeing continues, it will be possible to maintain the same level of security with fewer American forces.” U.S. officials acknowledge privately they have not turned the corner in restoring security. Last month, civilian deaths across Iraq rose to at least 1,809, the second highest monthly total this year, according to figures compiled by The Associated Press. At least 42 people were killed or found dead across the country Tuesday, according to police reports.160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!