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US Commander: Iraqi Forces Need Help to Control Baghdad

The commander of coalition forces in Baghdad says there are not enough Iraqi forces in the city to control it without coalition help, but he says the combined U.S. and Iraqi force is making good progress in defeating insurgents and militias who carry out most of the violence in the capital. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

Major General Joseph Fil says in the year he has been leading the coalition's security effort in Baghdad, his forces have brought 54 percent of the city's neighborhoods under control. He says that figure was just nine percent last November.

But the general acknowledges there is still too much violence in Baghdad, much of it in the 16 percent of neighborhoods where his forces are not operating, and the 30 percent of neighborhoods where his forces are working to clear out insurgents.

General Fil says he tries to move areas from rampant violence through stages called 'clear' and 'control' into a final Iraqi-led stage called 'retain.' Currently, only eight percent of the city is in that final stage, and he says there are not enough Iraqi forces to 'retain' the entire city on their own.

"The fundamental question: are the Iraqi security forces sufficient to truly protect the city? I do not believe they are," he said.

The general says the Iraqi government is working to expand its security forces to fill the gap, but he could not predict when there might be enough Iraqi troops, and violent groups might be weak enough, to allow for full Iraqi control of Baghdad.

General Fil says one factor in determining the level of violence in Baghdad is the growing effort to get more Iraqi young men to end their support for insurgents and join groups working with the Iraqi government.

"This very important initiative through reconciliation, to bring all of these willing young men who want to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem, is so very important and so very timely," he added.

That type of local reconciliation mirrors similar developments in western Iraq, where tribal leaders have joined with the coalition to defeat al-Qaida. The coalition is trying to replicate that progress in other parts of the country. General Fil says if the effort succeeds, it will help prevent a deterioration of security when the U.S. force surge ends next spring and summer.

"I would expect by the time we begin this reduction of security forces from the surge that we'll be well past the time when we needed them to do this expansion," he explained.

Still, for now General Fil says his forces are in a "tough fight" in several parts of Baghdad, and have not yet begun to try and take control of particularly difficult areas like Sadr City.