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Petraeus Pledges To Assess Surge

U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus said overall levels of violence in Iraq were about the same as they were in January, but apparent sectarian murders had been cut by two thirds.
by Pamela Hess
UPI Pentagon Correspondent
Washington (UPI) April 27, 2007
U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus will assess how the Baghdad security plan is working in early September, but the U.S. Congress has other plans. Petraeus, the recently appointed U.S. ground forces commander in Iraq, made the promise Thursday at a Pentagon press conference.

However, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have approved a war spending bill that requires the withdrawal of all U.S. forces by April 2008, regardless of how the security operation proceeds. President George W. Bush has promised to veto the $123 billion bill.

Petraeus, the commander of all coalition forces in Iraq, told reporters that despite the high level of violence now, a withdrawal of U.S. forces would see conditions deteriorate sharply.

"It can get much, much worse," he said.

Petraeus called the situation in Iraq the most complex and challenging of his career. He said even with U.S. forces deployed there, it could get even more violent before it improved.

"Because we are operating in new areas and challenging elements in those areas, this effort may get harder before it gets easier," he said. "As that takes place, I think there is a very real possibility that there's going to be more combat action and that, therefore, there could be more casualties."

April looks like being the most deadly months for American troops in Iraq since the start of the war.

Petraeus said overall levels of violence in Iraq were about the same as they were in January, but apparent sectarian murders had been cut by two thirds.

"I think it's fair to say a good bit better, but again, I am not trying in any way, shape or form to indicate that this is a satisfactory situation whatsoever," he said.

The reduction in sectarian violence has been offset by an increase in massive car bombs which increasingly target Iraqi civilians at random, often at major markets to maximize casualties.

Such attacks maximize press attention, commanding front pages and television broadcasts. Petraeus said he expected them to continue even as the surge strategy developed.

"Those attacks ... are of extraordinary significance because they can literally drown out anything else that might be happening," he said. "While the enemy's effectiveness in carrying out such attacks has been reduced by our operations to some degree, there clearly are still far too many of them, and we obviously are focusing heavily on actions to identify and dismantle the networks that carry out car bomb and suicide vest attacks and their supporting infrastructure."

Petraeus said he was operating under competing political timelines.

"There's a Washington clock ticking -- and actually, to be fair to those in Washington, it's an American clock," he said. "It's moving at a rapid rate of speed, and it reflects the frustration, impatience, disappointment, anger and a variety of other emotions (that people) feel about the pace in Iraq and the situation in Iraq."

"The Baghdad clock, for all the reasons that I mentioned, is not moving as rapidly," Petraeus said.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki cannot move the clock forward, Petraeus said. He doesn't command a majority in parliament and his government is supported by a complex coalition.

"They're all going to have to work together to make progress. That's a tall order, but that is what does have to happen," the general said.

"The irony of the current debate is that is comes at the worst possible time for both Iraq and for us," a senior U.S. military official told UPI Wednesday. "The Iraqi Security Forces are doing well enough. They are developing leaders. Their institutions and systems are beginning -- but only beginning -- to function. Pressing too hard will not simply slow momentum toward transition to their control but drive them back to old and very bad habits."

Petraeus offered his own timetable. He said he would deliver a candid assessment of whether his surge strategy was working in early September.

"We think that's the appropriate time to make it. It will be a time at which we will have had our additional forces on the ground for several months, all of them operating in the areas in which we intend to deploy them," he said.

Petraeus said that in the security arena, he would look for progress in securing the Iraqi population, reducing the influence of militias, and boosting the professionalism and commitment of Iraqi security force.

In the economic arena, he would look at the Iraqi government's investments in infrastructure and equipment, in restoring the social safety net, and whether Baghdad was funneling funds to provincial authorities. In 2006 the Iraqi government failed to spend nearly $12 billion of its budget.

"This is very important, that they in fact spend the money that they have for all Iraqis, for the good of them," he said.

Petraeus said he would monitor progress on de-Baathification laws, hydrocarbon sharing laws and provincial elections. He would also watch anti-corruption programs and the development of the Iraqi criminal justice and national prison systems.

"Success, in the end, will depend on Iraqi actions. As I noted during my confirmation hearing, military action is necessary but not sufficient. We can provide the Iraqis an opportunity, but they will have to exploit it," Petraeus said.

It remains to be seen if Petraeus' comments will convince many of the growing number of critics of the war in Congress.

Source: United Press International

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