Insurgents' response to military push caused increased violence, general says

Monday, June 18, 2007

WASHINGTON -- Insurgents pushing back on newly aggressive coalition military forces have led to continued violence in Iraq, the U.S. commander in Baghdad said Sunday, adding that stabilizing security could take up to a decade to complete.

Gen. David Petraeus described an ebb-and-flow of sectarian murders in Baghdad and said there has been a "stunning reversal" in the Anbar province, a former al-Qaida stronghold west of the city where tribes have begun to help fight the terror organization. He acknowledged, however, "real concerns" in some neighborhoods in and around Baghdad where Sunni and Shiites continue to battle.

"The fact is that as we go on the offensive, the enemy is going to respond. That is what has happened," Petraeus said.

He added: "Just about everybody out there recognizes that a situation like this, with the many, many challenges that Iraq is contending with, is not one that's going to be resolved in a year or even two years. In fact, typically, I think historically, counterinsurgency operations have gone at least nine or 10 years. The question is, of course, at what level."

A Pentagon report released last week concluded that violence in Iraq edged higher during a four-month period between February and May -- despite a U.S.-led security push in Baghdad.

The report also raised questions about Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's ability to fulfill a pledge made in January to prohibit political interference in security operations and to allow no safe havens for sectarian militias.

Overall, however, the report said it was too soon to judge whether the security crackdown was working.

Ryan Crocker, the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad, on Sunday called the situation in Iraq "a mixed picture, but certainly not a hopeless one." He noted frustrations among signs of progress, and cautioned against withdrawing troops too soon.

Congress is waiting for another progress report, due in September, that will indicate whether increased U.S. troops in Iraq has been successful. It could address how long troops, and how many soldiers, will need to remain in Iraq to help stabilize security.

Both Petraeus and Crocker declined to comment on what the report will conclude. "It will be a snapshot, obviously, but that film can't be developed until we're there in September," Crocker said.

Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate's GOP leader, expressed disappointment with the Iraqi government's progress in stemming violence and said U.S. presence there "will be different in the fall."

"I don't think we'll have the same level of troops, in all likelihood, that we have now," McConnell said. "The Iraqis will have to step up, not only on the political side, but on the military side to a greater extent. We're not there forever."

Democrat Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the Iraqi government has been stymied in part because the United States has not set firm consequences for failures to meet benchmarks.

"Unless we set a timetable ... the Iraqi leadership is going to continue to do nothing while the country is going up in flames," Levin said.

McConnell described growing support among Republicans and Democrats for the bipartisan Iraq Study Group's recommendations, which call for a troop drawdown and better training of Iraqi forces as well as more aggressive regional diplomacy. Former Indiana Congressman Lee Hamilton, who co-chaired the group, said the situation in Iraq continued to be "grave and deteriorating" even after President Bush's troop increase.

"I think we have been a little too lenient with the Iraqi leaders," he said.

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