WASHINGTON, D.C.: Iraq has rebuilt its military into a formidable, highly-skilled force that is now the foremost short-term threat in the Persian Gulf, the chief of the U.S. Central Command said Tuesday. General Binford Peay III appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee to request that the lawmakers not reduce U.S. military forces or decrease their overseas presence. Peay described Iraq's army as the most modernized and most powerful in the region, despite the fact that it has less than half the 51 divisions it had before the Persian Gulf War. "What we have in Iraq is a downsized force significantly upgraded," Peay said, "weak in air, strong in army, that is significantly more capable than the other neighboring states are able to handle." Some of the elite guard and key military infrastructure escaped the war unscathed as well, says TIME's Mark Thompson. "The Iraqi army is slimmed down, emaciated even, but it remains a potent force," says Thompson. "Before the Persian Gulf War, Iraq had the fourth largest army in the world. In the wake of the war, even if we had cut them in half, which we didn't, it would still be a powerful force."