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US Commander Says Stopping Iraqi Bombings Is Top Priority

The senior U.S. military officer in charge of operations in the Middle East and Central Asia says his top priority for Iraq is to end the series of suicide bombings, like the ones Wednesday that left more than 165 people dead. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

Admiral William Fallon told a congressional committee that of the many important things for the U.S. military to do in Iraq, stopping the bombings is the most important.

"Of all the things that we have on the plate in Iraq, the one that I think is first and foremost as a target for us to try to get a grip on and to neutralize is the group that is very clearly al-Qaida-motivated, that's linked to Sunni extremists in this country that are perpetrating these big suicide bombings," said Admiral Fallon.

Admiral Fallon said the bombings have a destabilizing effect on Iraq and are aimed at starting a new cycle of sectarian violence that must be avoided.

"The best, most likely way that this is going to be reduced is by getting the Sunni population in this country to believe that they have a future as a part of Iraq, and to tell us at every opportunity, or tell the Iraqi security forces, what's going on so that we can really work against this threat, because of all the challenges, all the things that happen, that are not good in this country [Iraq], this is the one that I think is most destabilizing today," he said.

The admiral said it is too early to judge the new Baghdad Security Plan because only about one third of the additional U.S. troops have arrived in the city. He said the plan is designed to give Iraqi leaders enough security to begin pursuing reconciliation, and help Iraqis, particularly Sunnis, begin to believe that they will have a better future working with the Shiite-dominated government than with the Sunni insurgents.

The admiral said that is already happening in mainly Sunni al-Anbar Province in western Iraq. That province had been one of the most violent in the country until tribal leaders decided to switch their allegiance from the insurgents to the Iraqi government and the U.S.-led coalition. The admiral reports there have now been eight consecutive weeks of reduced violence in al-Anbar.

Admiral Fallon took charge of U.S. Central Command just one month ago. He says during that time he has seen some improvement in the situation in Iraq, but he also acknowledged that there are setbacks every week. He said the U.S. and Iraqi governments need to work on a large number of issues, including building the capability of the new Iraqi security forces and improving Sunni-Shiite relations, and he called on Iraq's neighbors to help.