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U.S. General Says Iraq Attacks No Reason To Panic

General Raymond Odierno

General Raymond Odierno

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- A recent upsurge in violence in Iraq was the work of small cells and did not signify a major resurgence of anti-government, anti-American forces, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq said on April 12.

General Raymond Odierno said on CNN's "State of the Union" that overall violence remained at its lowest level since shortly after the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.

"Overall violence remains at 2003 lows, however...there are still some elements that are able to conduct some very serious attacks," Odierno said.

President Barack Obama, who made a surprise visit to Iraq last week, has declared a goal of withdrawing all U.S. combat forces from Iraq by the end of August 2010 and other forces by the end of 2011. But his strategy assumes Iraq staying relatively stable during this period.

Asked how confident he was on a scale from one to 10 that all U.S. forces would be out of Iraq by the end of 2011, Odierno said: "As you ask me today, I believe it's a 10 that we will be gone by 2011."

A roadside bomb killed another American soldier on April 12. Five U.S. soldiers and two Iraqi policemen died on April 10 when a suicide bomber drove a truck loaded with explosives at a police post in the northern city of Mosul.

A suicide bomber killed 12 militiamen at an Iraqi army post south of Baghdad on April 11. Last week, bombings in Shi'ite areas of Baghdad killed at least 44 people.

These attacks have alarmed Iraqis as they ponder whether a sharp drop in violence in the past year can be sustained as Iraqi forces increasingly replace U.S. troops in providing security.

Interviewed on the same CNN program, Iraqi national security adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie expressed confidence that Iraqi forces could take over security for the entire country within a year.

"In the next year or so, we will be in a position to take over all of our country -- all the security, all over the country," he said.

U.S. troops are supposed to withdraw from Baghdad and other major U.S. cities by June 30. Odierno said he would assess the situation to see if that plan needed to be delayed, although the final decision would rest with the Iraqi government.

"We will continue to conduct assessments along with the government of Iraq as we move toward the June 30 deadline. If we believe that we'll need troops to maintain a presence in some of the cities, we'll recommend that. But ultimately it will be the decision of Prime Minister [Nuri al-] Maliki," Odierno said.

Odierno said Obama had given him the flexibility over the next 18 months to adjust the size of the U.S. force in Iraq, which currently stands at around 140,000.

He characterized those behind the recent attacks as "small cells" of suicide bombers and said U.S. forces and their Iraqi allies were working hard to finish them off.