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Coalition General: Baghdad Operation Going Well So Far

The deputy commander of coalition forces in Iraq says the early stages of the new Baghdad security operation are going well, and he sees good signs for the future of the week-old effort. British Lieutenant General Graeme Lamb spoke from Baghdad with reporters at the Pentagon, and VOA's Al Pessin reports.

Senior U.S. officials have said they will be watching very closely whether Iraq's leaders and their military and police forces do what they have promised to do in the Baghdad operation. General Lamb says, so far so good.

"We will watch how they develop and go through," he said. "Right now, I think they're performing just fine."

General Lamb says it will not be easy to turn around the Baghdad security situation, but he believes it can be done with the new U.S. deployment President Bush announced last week, and what he calls a "huge commitment" by the Iraqi government and military.

"Things are difficult," he added. "This is hard, pounding [difficult work]. I don't doubt that in any sense. But I do see every reason for optimism. I see a commitment with this government that I have not seen before. There'll be lots of untidy [developments]. You'll be able to look into it and say it's not working and this is not right. But the general consensus I get is things are moving. Commanders are being held accountable to the chain of command. And it's clear where that chain of command is."

The deputy coalition commander echoed comments by other officials, saying this plan may work while others failed in the past because of the full commitment by the Iraqi government. Particularly important, General Lamb says, is Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's personal commitment to allow the military and the police to crack down on all troublemakers, regardless of their political or sectarian affiliations. He says that promise is tested nearly every day, and that the prime minister has already allowed the arrest of many members of the Shi'ite Mahdi Army militia, which is affiliated with a party in his ruling coalition.

"You might say that it's been tested on some of the arrest operations against the militias that we've seen recently," he noted. "He [Prime Minister Maliki] made a comment just a few days ago that 400 militiamen had been picked up from the Jesh al-Mahdi [Mahdi Militia]. It is a balanced approach. That's what he said he would do. Well that's what he's doing. And these are quite difficult circumstances."

General Lamb said he is also optimistic about the new effort in Baghdad, because it is an Iraqi plan and because Iraqi military reinforcements are already moving toward the capital. But he noted that the deployment of some Iraqi army units in an unfamiliar area among people from different sectarian or ethnic groups will require what he called "some finesse."

General Lamb also welcomed what he called political progress on key issues, including pending laws to ease de-Baathification and to share oil revenues. He also said he sees signs that Sunni politicians are interested in re-engaging in the political process, in spite of their minority status.

On another topic, the British general said forces from his country have not been defeated in Basra, where they are in charge of coalition forces, but he acknowledged that militias have made what he called "inroads" in the southern city.

He said the number of British troops is down from about seven thousand to six thousand, but only because of rotations and leave. General Lamb said he expects the British army will stay in Iraq at least through this year. He said later deployments will be a topic for discussion at the political level, but the British army is capable of staying as long as necessary.