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Top U.S. General Calls Situation In Iraq 'Very Tough'

  • Andrew Tully --> General Petraeus (file photo) (epa) WASHINGTON, April 27, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- General David Petraeus, the senior U.S. commander in Iraq, has said violence in Baghdad would increase if Congress got its way in mandating a specific date for withdrawal of U.S. troops.

He told reporters at the Pentagon on April 26 sectarian bloodshed has decreased in the two months since the so-called surge in troops began in Baghdad. But he also acknowledged that there have been serious setbacks and that it's far too soon to say whether the increased U.S. military presence will succeed.

One reporter asked Petraeus about the consequences in Baghdad if the United States began withdrawing its forces this year from the Iraqi capital.

Petraeus said the presence of both U.S. and Iraqi forces in the capital has, in his words, "begun to produce results," including a reduction of about two-thirds in the rate of sectarian murders in Baghdad. If U.S. troops were withdrawn, he said, he believes the situation would quickly get worse.

"I am well aware that the sense of gradual progress and achievement we feel on the ground in many areas in Iraq is often eclipsed by the sensational attacks that overshadow our daily accomplishments," Petraeus said.

"My sense is that there would be an increase in sectarian violence, a resumption of sectarian violence, were the presence of our forces and Iraqi forces at that time to be reduced," he said.

On April 25, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation to provide more than $95 billion to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also requiring a withdrawal from Iraq to begin by October 1. The Senate adopted a similar measure the next day.

At least two people were killed in this Baghdad car bombing on April 26 (epa)

U.S. President George W. Bush said he will veto any bill that includes what he calls an "artificial timeline" for a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. He argues that the enemy would simply wait for the withdrawal to be complete, then resume fighting, leaving Iraq a failed state where terrorists could operate training centers, as they once did in Afghanistan.

'Commitment, Perseverance, And Sacrifice'

Petraeus said the situation in Iraq is the most complex he's ever faced, adding that success there could be achieved only with what he called "commitment, perseverance, and sacrifice" by the United States. And he acknowledged that conditions there may get worse before they get better. But ultimately he was optimistic.

"I am well aware that the sense of gradual progress and achievement we feel on the ground in many areas in Iraq is often eclipsed by the sensational attacks that overshadow our daily accomplishments," 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 expects to know in September whether the strategy will succeed or fail.

Iran And Syria

According to Petraeus, achieving success was being hampered in part by what he called "exceedingly unhelpful" behavior by Syria and, particularly, Iran. Yet he said there's been no convincing evidence so far that Iran's central government is responsible for any hostile activities, or even direct knowledge of who's responsible.

Children in Baghdad perform a dance routine at a Labor Ministry day-care center on April 26 (epa)

Petraeus said he was convinced that Iran -- both its government and Iranians acting on their own -- have been responsible for what are being called "spectacular" car bombings in Iraq that have killed hundreds of people in the past few weeks.

"I don't think we have found a link to the spectacular car-bomb attacks, which we believe are generally Al-Qaeda and elements sort of connected to Al-Qaeda," Petraeus said. "Typically, in fact, still we believe that 80 to 90 percent of the suicide attacks are carried out by foreigners."

Petraeus summarized the situation in Baghdad by recalling that he recently took a helicopter tour over the capital at dusk with a reporter from "The Washington Post." He said both he and the reporter saw a city bustling with activity ranging from families at amusement parks and merchants selling their goods.

Yes, Petraeus conceded, car bombs still kill Iraqis, sometimes dozens of them in a single attack. Yes, he said, the government is not yet ready to develop the political solution necessary to stabilize the country. But at the same time, he said, life goes on, and the current U.S. strategy may very well give Iraqis the peace they deserve.

Iraq In Transition

THE COMPLETE STORY: RFE/RL's complete coverage of events in Iraq and that country's ongoing transition.