The American commander in Iraq says his forces have launched new offensives against al-Qaida insurgents in and around Baghdad during the last 24 hours, making use of the last of the additional combat forces President Bush ordered to Iraq in January. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Baghdad.
General David Petraeus announced the offensives at a news conference on Saturday.
"Literally in the last 24 hours, we have launched a number of different offensive operations in the Baghdad belts in particular," he said, "and we're continuing a number of operations that have been ongoing in Baghdad itself."
General Petraeus says the operations are targeting areas that have been al-Qaida safe havens, and bases for launching car bomb attacks. "A fairly large, coordinated offensive operation, with all of these surge forces, has only just now been launched," he said.
The general said he is taking advantage of the fact that the last of the extra U.S. forces have finally arrived, bringing new capabilities he can use to go after insurgents on their home ground. He would not provide any details of the operations. The general also announced the arrest of two key insurgent leaders in recent days.
General Petraeus spoke at a news conference with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who was on a one-day visit to Iraq. Secretary Gates said he came to press Iraqi leaders to make progress toward national reconciliation, which the U.S. government believes is crucial to long-term stability in Iraq.
"Is this a difficult process? Yes, because of the history of this country," said Gates. "But what is extraordinary is [that] it's not just Americans and our coalition partners who are willing to take risks and put their lives on the line, but a significant number of Iraqis as well, and those are the people we're trying to help."
At the same news conference, the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker spoke about the difficulty of pushing Iraqi leaders to move forward. "These have to be Iraqi decisions, Iraqi compromises, if they're really going to take effect and work," said Crocker. "We can't come up with solutions, as the United States, and expect to impose them or to impose timelines, and say, 'you've got to do this for the future of your country."
Ambassador Crocker and Secretary Gates both also spoke about efforts to achieve reconciliation on a local level throughout Iraq. Early Saturday, Gates, Crocker and Petraeus visited a new Joint Security Station in southeastern Baghdad, operated by U.S. and Iraqi forces. Senior U.S. and Iraqi officers told the visitors they are making the kind of progress in relations among sectarian groups locally that remains elusive on the national level.