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US Commander Optimistic About Progress in Iraq Despite Violence - 2003-07-19

Another U.S. soldier is dead Saturday after coming under attack while guarding a bank in Baghdad's Abu Gharaib district. Despite continued attacks, the top coalition ground commander says he remains optimistic.

A soldier with the U.S. 1st Armored Division died following a predawn attack from small arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades.

The soldier was critically wounded in the incident, and was rushed to a nearby medical facility, where he died of his wounds. His death brings the number of troops killed since major combat ended to 35.

Later Saturday, a U.S. patrol also came under fire in a town just northeast of Baghdad, with one serviceman wounded.

But despite continued attacks on coalition forces throughout Iraq and difficulties in reconstruction efforts, the head of coalition ground forces, Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, says progress is good so far.

"We are way ahead of schedule. The evolution of the country of Iraq is just amazing," he said.

The general's comments contrast sharply with complaints from many Iraqis that coalition forces have not done enough to restore security to the country.

Many also complain of erratic electricity, water and other public services.

General Sanchez, however, says progress in rebuilding Iraq is moving faster than similar efforts he witnessed in the Balkans.

"I spent a year in Kosovo in the aftermath of a war. We were nowhere near the level of progress that has been made in this entire country in 100 days," the general said.

General Sanchez adds that he hopes to have the 3rd Infantry Division - the unit that captured Baghdad during the war - withdrawn by September.

He says more than 1400 soldiers have already been sent home, and others are in the process of leaving.