The outgoing commander of US troops in Iraq, Gen David Petraeus, has said that he will never declare victory there. In a BBC interview, Gen Petraeus said that recent security gains were "not irreversible" and that the US still faced a "long struggle". When asked if US troops could withdraw from Iraqi cities by the middle of next year, he said that would be "doable". In his next job leading the US Central Command, Gen Petraeus will also oversee operations in Afghanistan. He said, "The trends in Afghanistan have not gone in the right direction and that had to be addressed."  Afghanistan remained a "hugely important endeavour", he said. Gen Petraeus said that when he took charge in Iraq "the violence was horrific and the fabric of society was being torn apart". Leaving his post, he said there were "many storm clouds on the horizon which could develop into real problems". Overall he summed up the situation as "still hard but hopeful", saying that progress in Iraq was "a bit more durable" but that the situation there remained fragile. He said he did not know that he would ever use the word "victory": "This is not the sort of struggle where you take a hill, plant the flag and go home to a victory parade... it's not war with a simple slogan."  He said Al-Qaeda's efforts to portray its jihad in Iraq as going well were "disingenuous". It was, in fact "going poorly", he said. AFP adds: political discord between Iraq's leaders and a resurgence of Al-Qaeda and Shia extremists could still torpedo the significant security gains of US-led forces, General David Petraeus said on Thursday as he prepared to hand over command of coalition troops. Petraeus, who relinquishes charge as the head of coalition forces in Iraq on September 16 to General Raymond Odierno, told AFP in an interview that he was leaving behind a "significantly improved" Iraq but one which was still vulnerable to lethal attacks by Al-Qaeda and Shiite extremists. The general expressed satisfaction over latest political developments. But he warned that the war-wracked country's bitterly divided leaders could still ruin the security gains. He said the US troop surge which began in February 2007 backed by the rise of Sunni Arab fighters battling Al-Qaeda has helped to curb the violence but the jihadist group was still not defeated. "Al-Qaeda has been significantly damaged, degraded and is on the run," he said. But the group and its network of extremists are still capable of carrying out "lethal, sensational, dangerous and barbaric attacks," he added. Petraeus said Iraq had left behind the horrific sectarian and insurgent violence that erupted in 2006. "That horrific level of violence... when average 55 bodies used to be found of people killed only in sectarian attacks... that kind of violence has been virtually eliminated, gone," he said. "The cycle of violence that was fuelling sectarian violence is just not the feature of Baghdad at this point of time." "Actually we are out of the cities with combat forces in probably 14 of the provinces of Iraq... all but Baghdad, Diyala, Salaheddin and Nineveh," he said. "Even in Tamim (Nineveh) we are largely in the periphery of different cities," he said, pointing to a limited presence also in southern provinces but in the form of small teams engaged in reconstruction or special operations.