Iraq Situation 'Very Tough,' Gen. Petraeus Says

Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. military chief in Iraq, described the situation there as "exceedingly complex and very tough" during a press briefing Thursday morning.

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ALEX COHEN, host:

In Iraq, violence continued today. A suicide car bomb killed 10 Iraqi soldiers in the north and more than a dozen Iraqis were killed in other bomb attacks. Meanwhile, in Washington General David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, spoke with reporters this morning. NPR's Pentagon correspondent Tom Bowman was there and he joins us now.

Welcome, Tom.

TOM BOWMAN: Hello, good to be with you.

COHEN: Tom, what was the general's assessment of the situation in Iraq?

BOWMAN: Well, he said it's going to take a lot of time. That was his big message, I think. And he also said to prepare for likely more U.S. casualties as more American troops take part in this so-called surge and also as the American soldiers and Marines get out of their fortified bases and into the neighborhoods. They're setting up small operating posts within some of these neighborhoods, essentially fortified houses and buildings. So that, of course, makes them more vulnerable.

But his message was this will take a lot of time, and I think we have some of what he had to say.

General DAVID PETRAEUS (U.S. Army): Success will take continued commitment, perseverance and sacrifice, all to make possible an opportunity for the all-important Iraqi political actions that are the key to long-term solutions to Iraq's many problems. Because we are operating in new areas and challenging elements in those areas, this effort may get harder before it gets easier.

COHEN: That was General David Petraeus. Tom, as you mentioned, he said many times that this might take more time. Did he offer any specifics as to how much time the efforts in Iraq might take?

BOWMAN: You know, he really didn't, and I kept pressing him on: are we going to see a large commitment of U.S. troops - let's say, 100,000 or more - for years to come? And he really wouldn't say. All he would say is it's an enormous commitment. It will take years. But he wouldn't really specify on the level of troops, which of course is the focus of the debate on Capitol Hill. Many in the House and Senate would like to see troops start coming home as early as next spring. But he wouldn't go that far. All he would say was it's an enormous commitment.

COHEN: There's been a lot of talk of withdrawing troops from Iraq. Did the general have anything to say about what effect that would actually have?

BOWMAN: Yes, he did. He said it would increase sectarian violence if U.S. troops did pull out. He believes they're having some effect on tamping down the sectarian killings. He gave some statistics along those lines. In some areas it's actually dropped. And the ethnic cleansing, he believes, would continue. For example, the Sunnis that are being pushed out of Baghdad into Anbar province. All that he believes would escalate if U.S. troops pulled out at this point.

COHEN: General Petraeus said that matters were made worse by activities by Syria and Iran, especially those by Iran. What exactly is he talking about? What has Iran been doing?

BOWMAN: Well, he talks a lot about what we've heard already and that is the Iranians, mostly the Revolutionary Guard forces, sending some of their operatives and also some weaponry. They call it shape charges, which can bore right through the metal of tanks and Humvees. They are seeing - picking up a lot more of those and they're saying that they're being milled or made in Iran. So we talked a little bit about that as well. But that's something we've been hearing for months now and nothing really all that new.

COHEN: We've been hearing a lot about car bombs recently. Did he have anything to say about what's been going on there and any way that we could try to stop any of these car bombs?

BOWMAN: Well, they've been taking out some of the car bomb networks, actually destroying them with in some cases artillery shells being shot by U.S. forces. But he said they're continuing to go after the car bomb networks and that he says are having some success.

COHEN: NPR's Tom Bowman from the Pentagon. Thanks so much for joining us.

BOWMAN: Okay, thank you.

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