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Petraeus Has Rare Praise for Syria, Not Sure About Iran

The top coalition commander in Iraq had some positive things to say Thursday about Syria and other countries and factions that have contributed to instability in Iraq in the past. But U.S. General David Petraeus says it is not yet clear whether Iran has also changed its policy, and U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates agrees. VOA's Al Pessin monitored their comments from the Pentagon

General Petraeus told reporters in Baghdad the surge of U.S. troops and progress by Iraqi security forces have helped reduce violence in Iraq by 60 percent in the last six months, to the lowest level in nearly two years. But he says there have also been other factors.

"Iraq has also been helped by more aggressive action by foreign-fighter source countries and by Syria, which has taken steps to reduce the flow of foreign fighters through its borders with Iraq. Another important factor has of course been the cease fire declared by Muqtada-al Sadr," he said.

The Iraqi Shi'ite leader declared a cease-fire, and General Petraeus says he has been purging criminal elements from his militia.

But the general was more cautious in assessing Iran's role in Iraq. U.S. officials say Iran has provided high-powered explosives, training and money to Iraqi insurgents known as "special groups," and even sent agents to Iraq to plan and supervise attacks on coalition forces. But top Iranian leaders recently promised Iraqi leaders they would not do anything to contribute to instability in Iraq. And General Petraeus reports a reduction in the use of bombs and weapons supplied by Iran. But he could not say whether that reduction is linked to Iranian government action.

"We look forward to all elements of the Iranian government following the promises, making real the promises that Iran's senior leaders have made to their Iraqi counterparts to stop the training, funding, arming and directing of organizations like the special groups," he said.

Speaking shortly after ending a two-day visit to Iraq, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates also said it is not clear whether Iran is living up to its promise.

"Based on my talks with everyone, including General Petraeus, I think that that's still an open question," he said. "They clearly have made some commitments to the government of Iraq. And I think we're waiting to see. I think it's a little too soon to tell."

Secretary Gates spoke in Bahrain, where he arrived Thursday for a regional security meeting involving 50 countries, including Iran. He says he does not expect to have direct talks with any Iranian officials, but that "Iranian behavior in a number of areas will clearly come up" during the meetings.

Assessing the situation in Iraq based on his visit, Secretary Gates said the key now is to build on the improved security through political progress. He says Iraqis are getting "impatient," and Iraq's top leaders, who he met with on Wednesday, know what they have to do on key issues like oil revenue sharing and easing de-Baathification.

General Petraeus said success in Iraq will not be smooth, but rather will emerge "slowly and fitfully, with reverses as well as advances."

"There will inevitability still be tough days, and perhaps tough weeks, ahead, but fewer of them over time, Inshallah [God willing]," he said.

General Petraeus called the security progress in some areas "fragile," and said he is not ready to talk about "turning corners," "seeing lights at the ends of tunnels" or "doing victory dances."