General George Casey, the top American commander in Iraq, said Friday that some of the extra troops that U.S. President George W. Bush ordered to Baghdad could begin leaving in a few months if violence subsides. The general met with U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates who is on a visit to Iraq to meet with the commanders of troops from the United States and several other nations. VOA's Jim Randle reports from Baghdad.
The outgoing U.S. military commander in Iraq, General George Casey, says a new security push involving more than 20,000 additional U.S. troops should start to show results soon.
"You are going to see some progress gradually over the next 60 to 90 days, but I think it is going to be summer, late summer (July or August), before we get to the point where people in Baghdad feel safe in their neighborhoods," he said.
His comments follow a rising tide of sectarian violence that United Nations' officials say killed 94 people a day last year in Iraq, mostly in Baghdad.
Hours before Gates arrived in Basra, six British soldiers were wounded in a series of rocket attacks on their base.
Casey met Gates in the oil-rich southern city of Basra Friday. The U.S. defense secretary is also meeting with the commander of British forces, Major General Jonathan Shaw, and conferring with commanders from Poland, Australia, Denmark, and Romania. Britain, which has the largest troop contingent among the U.S. allies, with 7,000 soldiers in the Basra area, is planning to withdraw a large portion of them this year.
Gates praised the United States and other coalition troops but said the stakes in Iraq are incredibly high.
"Whatever one's views about how we got to this point in Iraq at this pivotal moment, there is widespread agreement here that failure would be a calamity for American national interest and those of many other countries as well. Given what is at stake, failure is not an option," he said.
This is the second time Gates has visited Iraq since becoming U.S. defense secretary last month. On this trip, he also made stops in Afghanistan, and several Arab nations.
Meanwhile, Iraqi and U.S. forces detained a top aide to radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Al-Sadr's office says the man is the group's media director, Sheik Abdul Hadi al-Darraji.
But Lieutenant General Graeme Lamb, the Deputy Commander of Multinational Forces in Iraq, said he is sure they arrested the right man.
"The individual in question is someone we've been looking for," he said. "Based upon the evidence and intelligence we have, he was arrested and is currently under detention."
The U.S. military calls him the leader of a group involved in kidnapping, torture, and murder.