News On Iran & Its NeighboursIraqIraq attacks fall 60 percent, Petraeus says

Iraq attacks fall 60 percent, Petraeus says

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New York Times: The top American military commander in Iraq said Saturday that violent attacks in the country had fallen by 60 percent since June, but cautioned that security gains were “tenuous” and “fragile,” requiring political and economic progress to cement them. The New York Times

By STEPHEN FARRELL and SOLOMON MOORE
Published: December 30, 2007

BAGHDAD — The top American military commander in Iraq said Saturday that violent attacks in the country had fallen by 60 percent since June, but cautioned that security gains were “tenuous” and “fragile,” requiring political and economic progress to cement them.

The commander, Gen. David H. Petraeus, said the “principal threat” to security remained Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the homegrown insurgent group that American intelligence officials say is foreign led.

Speaking to reporters in an end-of-year briefing at the American Embassy in Baghdad, General Petraeus said that coalition-force casualties were down “substantially,” and that civilian casualties had fallen “dramatically.”

“The level of attacks for about the last 11 weeks or so has been one not seen consistently since the late spring and summer of 2005,” he said. “The number of high-profile attacks, that is car bombs, suicide car bombs and suicide vest attacks, is also down, also roughly 60 percent” since their height in March.

During his 100-minute briefing, General Petraeus used a series of charts showing trends in overall weekly and monthly attacks, car and suicide bombs, weapons-cache finds and Iraqi civilian deaths.

Although the data showed a sharp fall in civilian deaths from their peak between mid-2006 and mid-2007, the rate of decline appeared to level off in the past two months.

The figures were based on American military statistics, but included some joint Iraqi-coalition data.

However, he conceded that while attacks were down in the rest of the country, they had not fallen in the northern province of Nineveh, which includes Mosul, Iraq’s third-largest city, with a population of 1.7 million.

He said Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia remained active in northern Iraq, where it has been pushed since major offensive operations in Baghdad and Anbar Province, and that the rate of attacks in Nineveh “has just been variable and probably slightly up.”

One reason for the continuing violence, he said, was that the area remained “very important” to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia because it is crossed by the routes into Iraq from Syria and Turkey.

Also on Saturday, Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, flew to Britain for unspecified medical treatment. Yassin Majeed, a senior aide to Mr. Maliki, said only that the visit was for “routine” tests.

Iraqiya, the state television channel, showed Mr. Maliki boarding a jet at Baghdad International Airport. “Some time ago I tried to carry out these tests to be sure about some health matters,” he told reporters. “Now I have the chance.”

Gen. Abdul Kareem Khalaf, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, told reporters in a separate briefing on Saturday that 75 percent of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia’s networks and safe havens had been destroyed. He said that 18,000 people had been killed by violence so far in 2007, and that insurgent attacks had declined from 25 a day in February in Baghdad to as few as one during some days in December.

The general did not elaborate on the methodology used to determine any of the statistics he reported to the news media.

General Khalaf said the turning point was the rise of the so-called Sunni Awakening Councils in Anbar Province, the insurgents’ former stronghold. He said that once the tribal groups turned against the militants there, the Interior Ministry was able to focus on Baghdad. The general acknowledged, however, that Diyala Province had remained difficult to control because of continuing insurgent attacks.

“That’s the coming fight,” he said of Diyala and other troublesome areas north of Baghdad.

General Petraeus acknowledged that while Iraq had been brought back from “the brink of a civil war” in 2007, Iraqi and American commanders “clearly have more work to do in certain areas in the weeks and months ahead.”

General Petraeus identified numerous reasons for the fall in violence, namely the increase in American troops and the decision to move them to smaller bases where they are “living among those we are trying to protect.” He cited aggressive offensive operations, using a mixture of conventional and special forces, to focus on the insurgents’ strongholds and networks.

He also credited the Iraqis’ own “surge” of more than 100,000 soldiers and police officers, the rejection of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia by the Sunni awakening movement in former insurgent strongholds, and the cease-fire by the Mahdi Army, a Shiite militia loyal to the cleric Moktada al-Sadr, although he said some “splinter elements” continued to operate.

The general said outside factors included the decisions by some countries to curb the flow of foreign fighters into Iraq, singling out Syria.

Regarding Iran, he noted a fall in attacks using what he described as Iranian-provided “signature weapons”: RPG 29 rocket-propelled grenades, the sophisticated roadside bombs known as explosively formed penetrators, large-caliber rockets and portable air-defense systems.

He said he hoped Iran “will live up to the promises its senior leaders made to Iraq’s senior leaders” to stop what the Americans claim are the training, financing, arming and directing of “special groups” within Shiite militias that have attacked coalition forces.

Iran has consistently denied helping militias attack coalition forces in Iraq.

For his part, General Khalaf said that Iraq’s Interior Ministry, which he conceded had been infiltrated by Shiite militias in the past, was gradually integrating more Sunni Arabs into its ranks and weeding out officers believed to have dubious allegiances.

In an audiotape released Saturday, Osama bin Laden urged Iraq’s Sunni Arabs not to join the Awakening Councils.

“Our duty is to foil these dangerous schemes, which try to prevent the establishment of an Islamic state in Iraq, which would be a wall of resistance against American schemes to divide Iraq,” Mr. bin Laden said in the 56-minute tape, which was posted on a militant Web site used by Al Qaeda’s media arm, The Associated Press said.

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