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US General Describes Insurgent Fight in Northern Iraq

A senior U.S. general in Iraq says his forces in the northern part of the country, including Iraqi troops, are engaged in an active struggle with insurgent forces, with each side targeting the other's leaders. The general spoke Friday via satellite with reporters at the Pentagon.

General Thomas Turner, the commander of coalition forces in northern Iraq, says the number of insurgent attacks has been fairly consistent in recent months, but more of them are directed at Iraq's new security forces, including the assassination of Iraqi police leaders.

"There have been increased attacks against Iraqi security forces in some areas, in particular against the Iraqi police. We've seen what would appear to be assassinations in Kirkuk," said Turner.

But General Turner says his forces are also targeting insurgent leaders.

"We are very successful, I think, at killing leadership," he said. "They do have ways to regenerate. Of course, those that take their place are not as skilled, don't have the experience, as the ones they're replacing, and make far more mistakes. It's getting easier and easier to find and capture or kill them."

General Turner says most of the insurgents in northern Iraq are Iraqis, but he says there are still some organized al-Qaida groups, and sometimes the Iraqi and foreign forces work together. However, the general says the goals of the two groups are different and while he has not seen any rift between them in his area he is encouraged by reports of splits between Iraqi and foreign insurgents in other parts of Iraq.

General Turner also reports that the 105,000 Iraqi troops in his area are taking more and more responsibility for security operations.

"We have four Iraqi battalions that have assumed battle space in our area, and one brigade," he added. "The division that has responsibility for Mosul is doing very well, and in the next couple of months they will have battalions that will begin to assume battle space in that area, and the same is true in Kirkuk."

Senior U.S. officials have said 2006 will be a crucial year in the development of the Iraqi military and police forces, which are expected to take increased responsibility for security in the country, paving the way for possible significant reductions the number of foreign troops.