The senior U.S. commander in Iraq says the new security plan is ahead of his expectations in some aspects, but behind in others, little more than half way through the deployment the extra U.S. forces. The general spoke in Washington Wednesday and VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.
General David Petraeus says the sectarian murder rate is down and his forces and Iraqi troops are capturing significant insurgent leaders. But he also calls the large-scale suicide bombings a 'setback,' and says stopping them is a major focus of his efforts. "We are actually ahead of where I wanted to be in some areas, and probably behind where we might have hoped to be in some other areas," he said.
Speaking after three hours of closed meetings with members of Congress, General Petraeus said there has also been what he called 'quite heartening' and 'almost breathtaking' progress fighting the insurgency in mostly Sunni al-Anbar Province. He says local tribes have joined forces with the Iraqi Army and U.S. forces to push al-Qaida insurgents down the Euphrates River valley, town by town. Still, he said much work remains to be done.
General Petraeus also announced that his forces have captured a key leader of the Iranian effort to provide Iraqi insurgents with high-powered bombs known as Explosively Formed Projectiles. "We have learned a great deal more about Iranian involvement, very nefarious involvement, involving funding, training on Iranian soil, advice and the provision of, again, lots of arms and ammunition, including these Explosively Formed Projectiles that have been so lethal against some of our armored vehicles," he said.
The general also responded to the debate over the construction of barriers around some neighborhoods in Baghdad. He said the move in the Amadiya neighborhood was controversial because of a Sunni shrine in the area, but he said the wall building has gone smoothly in other parts of the city, and in other cities, and has improved security.
"The idea is, you can not hold the neighborhood if you can not control access to it, and that means that you have to have a method of controlling vehicle flow in and out of it. And that's why, in fact, Iraqis as well as coalition forces have carried forward this kind of effort," he said.
General Petraeus noted that he will not have all the additional troops he has been promised until mid-June. He said he and the new U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, will make their first official assessments of the new security effort in September. In the meantime, he tried to steer clear of the congressional debate over funding for the war, in which Democratic Party members are trying to set a timetable for a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq.
He did, however, advise members of congress to consider the impact of their rhetoric on U.S. allies and adversaries, and on American troops and their families. He also urged members to be patient with Iraqi Prime Minister Noori al-Maliki, saying he has a fractious coalition to deal with. And the general called for efforts to influence key leaders in that coalition, not just the prime minister. U.S. officials say progress on political issues is as important as security efforts in establishing stability in Iraq.
Members of congress who spoke after the meetings mostly repeated their known positions on the Iraq war. Democratic Party Senator Carl Levin, who heads the Senate's Armed Services Committee, said he didn't think General Petraeus had changed any minds during the sessions.