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US Commander in Northern Iraq Asks for More Troops

The U.S. commander in northern Iraq says he does not have enough manpower to secure the increasingly violent Diyala province. Major General Benjamin Mixon made the remarks to reporters at the Pentagon by videoconference from Iraq. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel has details from Washington.

General Mixon commands the area of Iraq that includes Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad.

Diyala is a large, ethnically mixed region that has experienced some of the worst violence since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

Mixon says the province is a focus for al-Qaida terrorists and contains a large number of Sunni insurgents that receive support from the local population.

The general says he needs more troops to secure the area.

"I do not have enough soldiers right now in Diyala province to get that security situation moving," he said. "We have plans to put additional forces in that area. I can't discuss the details of that. We have put additional forces in there over the last couple of months, but I am going to need additional forces in Diyala province to get that situation to a more acceptable level so the Iraqi security forces will be able in the future to handle that."

The general says he currently has about 3,500 U.S. troops in Diyala province, with about 10,000 Iraqi soldiers and several thousand Iraqi police.

Mixon says Diyala's government is so ineffective at providing services that it could be described as nonfunctioning.

The general says ministries in Baghdad are to blame because they are to slow to provide support to provincial governors and Iraqi security services.

"After nearly eight months on the ground I am concerned about the overall progress of our Iraqi security forces and the governmental processes," he added. "Progress is being made in selected areas, although slow. At times we have episodic setbacks and unnecessary roadblocks to security and governance, but we continue to move forward."

President Bush has ordered nearly 30,000 additional troops to Iraq, primarily to help calm sectarian violence in Baghdad.

General Mixon says insurgents, facing the crackdown in the Iraqi capital, have migrated to Diyala and other provinces.

The general says providing security and improving local government services are critical components for defeating the insurgency.

"The most important and difficult task we have is to improve the Iraqi government capacity, particularly at the provincial level," he explained. "That will lead the people to have confidence in their government. The confidence of the people in that government will enhance our security operations and enable us to ultimately defeat this enemy."

General Mixon says showing Iraqis that their government can provide for them "will be the most powerful weapon against the insurgency."