LONDON (AFP) - American combat troops could be out of Baghdad by July 2009, the outgoing top US general in Iraq said in an interview published Thursday. Asked by the Financial Times whether it was possible that the US combat troops could leave the Iraqi capital by then, General David Petraeus replied, "Conditions permitting, yeah." "The number of attacks in Baghdad lately has been, gosh, I think it's probably less than five (a day) on average, and that's a city of seven million people," he said. Petraeus, the architect of the troop surge escalation strategy credited by the Bush administration with improving security in Iraq, was promoted to run the US Central Command in July, and will head all the US operations in the Middle East, including the war in Afghanistan. He told the business daily that Iraq was a "dramatically changed country" since he took over in Feb 2007, adding that there was certainly a degree of hope that was not present 19 months ago. Petraeus insisted, however, that "innumerable challenges" still there, pointing to the unresolved status of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, remaining ethnic and sectarian tensions, adding that while Al-Qaeda's capabilities in Iraq were diminished, it could still carry out lethal attacks. On his new role at US Central Command, Petraeus noted that given Afghanistan's differences with Iraq, similar strategies could not necessarily be used in both countries. "There are limitations in Afghanistan that are not found here. Iraq's infrastructure is still vastly greater than that of Afghanistan," he told the business daily. "So there was an ability here to absorb a substantial number of forces in a relatively short period of time. "I think, again, the infrastructure challenges, the transportation and logistical challenges, and perhaps, again, the desire of national authorities and so forth are all different." The US military is currently withdrawing five combat brigades sent into Iraq early last year " the so-called "surge" force " to be completed by July. That would bring troop levels down from about 158,000 to 140,000.