U.S. commander says no military solution to Iraq
Reuters | March 8, 2007
U.S. and Iraqi security forces cannot solve the problem of violence in Iraq without political action and reconciliation with some militant groups, the U.S. commander in Iraq said on Thursday.
General David Petraeus, in his first news conference in Baghdad since he took command last month, also said he saw no immediate need to request more U.S. troops, but reinforcements already requested would likely stay "well beyond the summer".
"There is no military solution to a problem like that in Iraq, to the insurgency of Iraq," Petraeus said.
"Military action is necessary to help improve security ... but it is not sufficient."
He said political progress would require talking to and reconciling with "some of those who have felt the new Iraq did not have a place for them".
He said a key challenge for the Shi'ite-led government of Nuri al-Maliki was to identify those militant groups who were "reconcilable" and to bring them into the political process.
He said groups such as al Qaeda were intensifying their attacks to provoke more violence and stop that process.
Petraus said a U.S.-backed Iraqi security crackdown in Baghdad would take months and "sensational attacks" would continue, but there had already been encouraging signs of progress, notably a fall in sectarian killings.
U.S. TROOP PRESSURE
There are nearly 140,000 U.S. troops already fighting in Iraq, where sectarian violence has thwarted American efforts to bring the 4-year-old war to a close.
Democratic leaders in the U.S. Congress are pushing for a timetable for withdrawal of troops after widespread anger at the war handed them victory in last November's mid-term elections.
Petraeus said he had discussed with his second in command on Thursday whether he had enough troops for his current mission.
"Right now we do not see other requests (for troops) looming out there. That's not to say that some emerging mission or emerging task will not require that, and if it does then we will ask for that," Petraeus said.
Petraeus took command of U.S. troops in Iraq last month at a critical time, having been appointed to oversee President George W. Bush's new strategy in Iraq, focusing on halting the daily carnage of suicide bombs and death squad killings in Baghdad.
Bush is sending 21,500 more troops, mostly to Baghdad. At least 3,188 U.S. soldiers have died since the 2003 invasion.
Asked about reports the additional 21,500 troops would need to stay in Iraq until early 2008, he said:
"I've certainly not reached a conclusion yet about that," Petraeus said. "I think you generally think that if you're going to achieve the kind of effects that we probably need, I would think it would need to be sustained certainly some time well beyond the summer, but again we'll have to see."
Since the Baghdad plan was launched in mid-February, the number of bodies found shot and dumped around the capital has fallen from around 40 to 50 a day to single digits on some days. However there has been no let-up in bombings such as those that killed nearly 150 Shi'ite pilgrims in the past two days.
"(It's) too early to discern significant trends, (but) there have been a few encouraging signs," Petraeus said.