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Iraq: U.S. General Backs Bush's Assessment Of Progress In Baghdad

Iraqis at the site of a car-bomb attack in Baghdad on March 20 (epa) WASHINGTON, March 20, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- A top general in the U.S. Army today reinforced President George W. Bush's assertion of progress in pacifying Baghdad since a "surge" in troops began last month.

But like Bush, General Michael Barbero cautioned that it will be some time before the surge can be evaluated properly. He said no one at the Defense Department thinks the surge will bring quick results.

In a briefing at the Pentagon, he told reporters that the goal will be difficult to achieve. "The effort to improve security in Iraq will take time and determination. And the way ahead in Iraq -- make no mistake -- will be challenging, and we need to take a long-term view. But we absolutely believe the mission is achievable, and we remain committed to this mission," Barbero said.

More Checkpoints

But Barbero cited evidence of early progress since the surge began. He said the U.S. military has increased the number of checkpoints, or outposts, both in the Al-Anbar Governorate west of Baghdad, where Sunni insurgents are active, and in the capital, where U.S. and Iraqi government forces have been contending with sectarian fighters.

Barbero said the larger number of these outposts have meant more perilous contact with both insurgents and sectarian fighters. But he said coalition forces also get more tips about where to hunt down the enemy.

"When I was in Iraq, two of the metrics I used for how we're doing are: Are we getting recruits for the Iraqi security forces? And the second one was: How are we doing on tips from the local population? I think that's key because that tells you they've invested, they've made a decision [to side with the U.S. and Iraqi forces]," Barbero said.

"And in February, since the start of this operation, we've had the highest number of tips from the Iraqi population in Baghdad than we've ever had, a lot of these [tips] coming into these outposts and these other positions," he added.

The general's statements support Bush's assertion on March 19, in a statement from the White House, that the surge is showing signs of success since last month, when he ordered another 21,500 combat forces into Iraq, plus support troops.

During the Pentagon briefing, one reporter noted that the rate of U.S. casualties has not changed since the troop surge in Baghdad began. The reporter asked how that fact could be seen as an indication of initial success.

Barbero said he didn't mean to imply that the Pentagon wasn't taking these casualties seriously. But he added: "As our checkpoints and control points have been more effective, as they [enemy forces] try to execute these high-profile attacks with these vehicle-borne IEDs [improvised explosive devices] in Baghdad, we're stopping a lot of them at these checkpoints, and they're not getting to the intended target."

New Insurgent Tactics

Barbero said hostile forces have had to modify their tactics in an effort to compensate for the strengthened presence of U.S. and Iraqi government troops. He said that is further evidence that the surge is working.

The general cited one tactic used by insurgents during the past weekend in which insurgents used children as decoys to help them carry out a suicide attack.

According to Barbero, U.S. soldiers let a car through a checkpoint because there were two children in the back seat. The adults in the car then abandoned the vehicle and detonated it, with the children still inside.

Barbero said he knows of no other similar incidents, so it's too early to say whether the insurgents intend to adopt this tactic more widely. Whatever the case, he said, it's a sign that the insurgents will do anything, even deliberately kill children, to achieve their goals.

Muqtada Al-Sadr

Muqtada Al-Sadr

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