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Pentagon Reports Improvements in Iraq,  But Warns Progress Fragile


A quarterly report from the Pentagon says violence in Iraq is down significantly, but warns the progress is fragile, in part because of political infighting, meddling from Iran and the continuing ability of insurgent groups to stage large-scale attacks. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.

The report, required by Congress, says violence in Iraq has fallen to its lowest level in four years, with some categories down as much as 80 percent. Still, there are dozens of attacks every day, most of them in Baghdad and three northern provinces, with about 40 large-scale attacks in the month of May.

The report praises the Iraqi government for progress in developing and using its security forces against both Sunni and Shiite extremists, and for progress on some political issues. But the report also calls the gains "fragile, reversible and uneven." That sentiment was echoed Monday by the top U.S. military officer, Admiral Mike Mullen.

"Iraq's in a much better place than it was a year ago, across the board - politically, economically and from a security standpoint," said Admiral Mullen. "I see that when I visit there, and clearly just to talk to the brigades who have recently returned, they confirm that. But we're not at the sustainable point yet. We're not at the irreversible point yet."

The Pentagon's quarterly Iraq report says a major factor in the progress has been the willingness of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis to reject extremism and begin to work with the government. The trend started among Sunnis in al-Anbar Province, but the report says it has now spread to Shiites in many parts of the country. The report says there are now more than 100,000 men in so-called 'Sons of Iraq' groups, working with the Iraqi police and army to maintain order and keep insurgents and terrorists out of local areas.

According to the report, Iran continues "to fund, train, arm and guide" Shiite militias, in spite of promises to stop. The report says, during recent operations in Basra, Iraqi security forces found caches of weapons that were manufactured in Iran this year.

The report also points to improvements in the capacity of the Iraqi army and police, but says the progress varies from place to place. On Monday, the Number Two U.S. commander in Iraq, Lieutenant General Lloyd Austin, said the Iraqis still need to be backed up by U.S. forces, but he believes U.S. and Iraqi troops can continue to make security gains, even though U.S. troop levels are being reduced by about 20,000.

"We have, over the last several months, been engaged in some pretty significant activity from time to time," said General Austin. "As we faced al-Qaida in the north, we also faced a pretty significant fight against JAM [Jesh al-Mahdi, Mahdi Army] Special Groups criminals in the areas of Basra and Sadr City. And we did all that while our footprint was getting smaller. But I think the results speak for themselves. We've been fairly effective."

A second report issued Monday, this one from the Congress' Government Accountability Office, echoes many of the points in the Pentagon's report, but says the end of the surge requires an updated U.S. strategy document taking account of recent developments and covering the coming months and years. The report says the Departments of State and Defense disagree with the recommendation because broad U.S. goals remain the same. But they promise to review the strategy as necessary.

The quarterly Pentagon report points to several areas in which the Iraqi government must improve its performance in order to solidify security gains. The report says government workers need more training in order to support the security forces and development projects. It says there are still problems with inefficiency, corruption, favoritism and the delivery of essential services, such as electricity, water, sanitation and healthcare. And the report calls for senior leaders to spend "considerably more time and effort" to solve national disputes over pending legislation on provincial powers and other issues linked to national reconciliation.

The report also says the reduction in violence has helped spur strong economic growth, with Iraq's Gross Domestic Product projected to grow seven percent this year. That is helped by a nearly 10 percent increase in oil production at a time when world oil prices are at an all-time high. The report says inflation remains high at 12 percent, but that is just over one third of the rate two years ago.